Can a local government obtain federal trademark protection for its official insignia?

The Federal Circuit recently said no, in a case highlighted today at Julie Tappendorf’s must-read blog Municipal Minute. In the case, the District of Columbia and the City of Houston attempted to trademark these two marks:


The court ruled that Section 2(b) of the Lanham Act ( 15 U.S.C. 1052(b)) prohibits the local governments from registering the marks. It provides:

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it . . . [c]onsists of or comprises the flag or coat of arms or other insignia of the United States, or of any State or municipality, or of any foreign nation, or any simulation thereof.

The court rejected Houston’s argument that read in context, the statute does not prevent the City from registering its own seal. It also rejected D.C.’s claim that it may register the mark because of international treaty requirements.