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Seattle Law Professor Takes on AT&T and the PTO's Registration of Signal Bar Design

UW School of Law Professor Sean O’Connor, guest blogging at Legal Satyriconwrites about AT&T’s trademark registration of the bars indicating cell phone signal strength (depicted left).

“The bars are purely functional representations of the strength of cell service and a standardized one at that,” he writes. “If anything were unworthy of being captured as a trademark, this should have been it.

To his dismay, AT&T’s bold use of “SM” to indicate its claim to common law rights in the design last year was replaced with an even bolder ”®” to indicate its federal registration, albeit on the Supplemental Register.

“While I am aghast at the chutzpah of the attorneys who sought to register a blatantly functional, generic icon as a proprietary trademark, I reserve my highest scorn for the PTO.”

A spirited discussion follows the post. Nice debut, Sean!

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Reader Comments (1)

The design may be de facto functional, in that it performs a function. But why is it de jure functional? Why can't others use some other design, like a thermometer or a speedometer, to indicate signal strength? Is the 5-bar design cheaper to make? Is it covered by a utility patent?
July 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn L. Welch

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