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USPTO backs down on iPad mini trademark objections

'The examining attorney apologizes for any inconvenience caused'

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The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has withdrawn its primary objections to Apple's trademark filing for the term "iPad mini" – but Cupertino is not completely off the hook quite yet.

"Upon further review of the application, the examining attorney has determined that the following refusals issued in the initial Office action should be withdrawn," examining attorney Lee-Anne Berns wrote in a Supplemental Office Action memo. "The examining attorney apologizes for any inconvenience caused."

The objections withdrawn from the original ruling, which was issued last week, include the assertion that the term was "merely descriptive", and that the "specimen" that Apple included in its filing – a screenshot of its Apple.com iPad mini web page – was insufficient.

The original ruling went into great detail about how "mini" as used by Apple merely described the original iPad's little brother as being a smaller version of the Cupertinian fondleslab. As of the new ruling, however, that usage apparently no longer bothers Berns.

The objection to the web page specimen was more arcane. "The web catalog or web page specimen is not acceptable to show trademark use as a display associated with the goods," the original refusal had ruled, "because it fails to include a picture or a sufficient textual description of the goods in sufficiently close proximity to the necessary ordering information/a weblink for ordering the goods, and thus, appears to be mere advertising material."

That objection has also been withdrawn – as well it should, The Reg contends, since it was a bit silly in the first place.

Berns, however, notes that there may still be reasons to deny trademark protection to "iPad mini". For one, although Berns has found "no similar registered mark that would bar registration" (her emphasis), there may be similar marks in "prior-filed pending applications" that would bar Apple from gaining a trademark.

In addition, and as in the earlier ruling, she requires that Apple amend its trademark application to include a disclaimer that it doesn't seek to trademark the term "mini" per se, and that it makes no claim on that term other than in the product-identifying term "iPad mini".

"An applicant may not claim exclusive rights to terms or designs that others may need to use to describe or show their goods or services in the marketplace," Berns writes.

Seems reasonable. Chalk this quick turnaround up as a win for Apple, and another indication that the whys and wherefores of the USPTO can be strange and arcane, indeed. ®

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