Orange County Trademark Attorney® Blog

Drug Maker Cannot Trademark Peppermint Flavor and Scent

March 6, 2013

peppermint.jpgOrange County - Drug producer Pohl-Boskamp GmbH & Co. KG cannot trademark the peppermint scent and flavor of a nitroglycerin spray sold to help treat chest pain, according to a recent decision by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The TTAB ruled that the taste and smell of peppermint in the Nitrolingual Pumpspray is functional because the peppermint oil makes the spray more effective at treating chest pain due to angina and therefore it cannot be registered as a trademark. The board also ruled that the flavor and smell were not distinct enough to warrant trademark protection.

Pohl-Boskamp filed a trademark application for the peppermint scent and flavor of the Nitrolingual Pumpspray in 2010. The liquid is sprayed under the tongue and is used to help provide relief from an attack of angina pectoris, a form of chest pain brought on when the heart does not get the blood and oxygen it needs because of coronary heart disease.

The board pointed out that the Trademark Act does not bar scents and flavors from being trademarked, as the law describes a trademark as a "word, symbol or device" used to distinguish goods or services. However, the board said that Pohl-Boskamp did not prove that the scent and flavor of the Nitrolingual Pumpspray is deserving of a trademark.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board pointed to a patent owned by another company that indicates peppermint oil reduces side effects of nitroglycerin by increasing the rate at which it is absorbed into the bloodstream. This makes the peppermint functional and therefore not protectable by trademark. In other words, allowing the trademark to register would give Pohl-Boskamp a competitive advantage. "Competitors would either have to forgo using peppermint oil or find a way to mask the taste of the peppermint oil, if that were even possible," the board ruled.

The board also pointed out that Pohl-Boskamp's argument that the peppermint smell was "substantially exclusive" to its product was groundless, as the board found competing products with the same scent. The board ruled that since there are several competing products with a similar scent and flavor, consumers would perceive those characteristics as physical attributes of the product, not as indicators of the origin of the product.

"To allow applicant the exclusive right to market nitroglycerine formulations having the flavor of peppermint oil would impermissibly prevent the future use of therapeutic peppermint oil by others in applicant's field," the board concluded.