US Airways Loses Bid to Keep a Trademark that Includes the Word ‘Bus’

The airline US Airways lost its bid to keep a trademark that includes the word “bus” in a defeat for companies that have sought to block competitors from using their business names as descriptors.

The case was closely watched by corporations, including Microsoft, which is fighting Apple’s use of the name “App Store.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled last week that several companies can use “air bus” for transportation services because the term is generic for an aircraft carrying many people. The board said allowing US Airways to monopolize the term would inhibit competition and be detrimental to consumers.

US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., has used the terms “air bus” and “airbuses” in marketing materials since at least 1965, according to court documents. In 2003, it sought to register both terms at the trademark office as part of a rebranding effort after its acquisition of America West Airlines.

Last year, a group of airlines including Delta Air Lines and United Continental Holdings filed petitions challenging US Airways’ registration of “air bus.” They argued that consumers already identify “air bus” with multiple airlines, including private charter services, according to court documents.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected a trademark application by U.S. Airways for a logo that includes the word “Bus.”

Even though the carrier is not now using the logo on its aircraft, it had requested to preserve the trademark because it might use it again in the future. But trademark authorities said no, because U.S. Airways has not used the word “Bus” in its marketing since 2005, CNN reported.

The rejection of the trademark application is further evidence that technology has taken over as travelers’ preferred way to buy tickets for travel by bus and plane, and has diminished the importance of bus stations and bus stops as hubs for passenger traffic.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has canceled a trademark registration for US Airways Inc. that includes the word “bus.”

The ruling, made Sept. 10, comes after a Houston man named Frederick J. Knight filed an application to register a trademark for a bus service called “US Bus” in May 2007. The airline opposed it in October 2007, saying it would cause confusion among consumers.

The two parties reached a settlement in June 2008, in which Knight agreed to remove any reference to “bus” from his service’s name and website. But later that month he changed the name to US Bus Airways and created a website under that name, leading the airline to renew its opposition.

In April 2009, the board ruled that Knight had failed to show that he was actually using the mark on his bus service or even whether he maintained buses, as he claimed on his website. In June 2009, Knight filed documents claiming he was operating at least one bus with the US Bus Airways mark and showed plans to expand into other cities. He said he was also selling T-shirts with the US Bus Airways logo on them through an online store.

Knight argued that the term “bus” described what his company does and is a generic term for passenger transportation services by motor vehicle.

US Airways has lost a three-year-old trademark application for the word “bus,” the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has ruled.

The airline had sought to trademark the word for use in its airport shuttle service, but USPTO examiners rejected the request on the grounds that the name is too generic to be protected by law.

“We find that registrant’s mark merely describes a feature of applicant’s services, namely, that they are provided by bus,” they wrote in a June 30 decision. “Therefore, consumers would understand applicant’s mark as merely describing one feature of applicant’s services.”

US Airways wanted to use the trademark to distinguish its shuttle service from competitors’ shuttles at area airports. The company claimed it was necessary because all of its competitors used similar names for their services, including “airport buses” and “airport shuttles.” In fact, US Airways argued, it was so difficult to distinguish between companies’ shuttle services that passengers often mistakenly boarded the wrong bus.

But trademark examiners said there was nothing distinctive about the airline’s use of the word bus, which can be applied to any kind of large motor vehicle used for transporting passengers from place to place.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled on Tuesday that the airline cannot trademark the term because it is too generic.

The ruling upholds a decision from a patent office hearing officer who determined in June 2011 that “Bus” was simply too common to be trademarked, even with the rest of the phrase.

“The combination of ‘bus’ and ‘ticket’ does not sufficiently identify and distinguish applicants’ services from those of others,” the ruling said.

While trademarks are often registered for single words or phrases, they require something more to make them distinctive, such as unique spelling (Kodak) or placement (Google).

Requests for comment from US Airways were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon. The airline has 20 days to appeal the ruling to a federal district court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington ruled that the trademark should be canceled because the company’s use of the term “bus ticket” was merely descriptive and lacked secondary meaning, which would distinguish it from competitors.

The ruling, which upheld a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, means US Airways can still use the phrase “bus ticket” in its advertisements and marketing materials, but it will no longer get extra trademark protection for doing so.

I’m going to the air show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin next week, and flying there on Monday. I can’t remember if I’ve flown there for the show before, but I do know that the last time I was in Oshkosh was in 1993. It was a trip with my dad. We took buses. I still have the US Airways ticket jacket from that trip:

I always liked this ticket jacket; it looked like a passport to me and seemed more grown-up than just a little piece of paper with a tear-off stub. This one is the last one I have, because this was the last time my dad and I ever took buses together.

With the advent of low cost airlines–first Southwest Airlines and then others–bus travel pretty much died out, even though it wasn’t particularly expensive compared to driving (at least not for most routes). Southwest Airlines started out by serving mainly Texas cities (San Antonio, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth) but soon added flights to other states. This expansion played an important role in decimating bus travel; low cost airlines were simply much more convenient than buses. The same thing happened in Europe, when EasyJet came along and made traveling across borders much easier and cheaper.

I wonder how many

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