May Birchbox – Geek diversion

This month’s Birchbox allows me to dive deep into the nuances of trademark law – so deep that I’m going to save the rest for another day. I’m sure you’ll be glad to have taken the plunge with me, though. Here goes:




This is a sample of YesTo Grapefruit products. If you’re familiar with the YesTo line, you know that they feature a number of fruits and vegetables to which we’re saying yes – e.g., carrots and blueberries. From a trademark perspective, however, these marks could be a bit troublesome; as I see it, these narrowly skirt the fate of being deemed a dreaded PHANTOM mark! (No, not this Phantom.)


What is a phantom mark? According to the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, a phantom mark is one that contains an element “that is subject to change.” The reasoning for the prohibition against such registrations is to “accurately reflect the mark that is used in commerce, so that someone who searches the register for a similar mark will locate the registration,” and that a mark that is missing elements “will encompass too many combinations and permutations to make a thorough and effective search possible.” TMEP § 1214.01

So how do the YesTo folks get around the phantom mark problem? By almost, but not quite, mutilating their trademarks. Yes, yet another somewhat obscure trademark rule holds that a mark must be “complete”; that is, the mark in the drawing must reflect the mark that appears in the specimen. Here is the PTO drawing of the YES TO mark followed by the mark as it appears on the products:

Trademark image
As you can see, there’s a “flavor” under the YES TO logo on each package – here, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, or blueberries. But that flavor isn’t, according to the PTO, part of the registered trademark. I’ll tell you what I think: I think YesTo sat down with its trademark lawyers and had a nice long talk about how to ensure its marks could be registrable and protectable and how to avoid both the phantom mark and mutilation problems – and switched to this new logo, which emphasizes the YES TO and clearly shows the fruit or vegetable as a variety name. But what about the little tomato, carrot, cucumber, or blueberry that appears right above “to” in the logo? Isn’t that part of the logo? I suspect the YesTo argument is that the little picture is also a variety designator and not part of the YesTo logo.

Well-played – but look at what you have to go through to get registration with a mark like this! 

More from the rest of the May Birchbox selection soon!