USPTO: Whole Foods Can’t Prove It’s The “World’s Healthiest Grocery Store”

Image courtesy of Glyn Lowe Photoworks

If you want to go around telling everyone you’re the best cheese-eater this side of the Mississippi, well, that’s one thing. But if you’re a major grocery chain, you can’t just claim to be the world’s healthiest without the proof to back that up.

Whole Foods recently filed a patent application for the slogan, “World’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” a step up from its current “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” and was roundly rejected by the U.S. Patent Office, The Washington Post points out.

The office said it denied Whole Foods because the trademark makes a “laudatory” claim, or is based on exaggerated praise that’s either unproven or can’t be proved at all. It was also refused because “the applied-for mark merely describes a feature or characteristic of applicant’s services.”

“‘Marks that are merely laudatory and descriptive of the alleged merit of a product [or service] are.. regarded as being descriptive’ because ‘[s]elf-laudatory or puffing marks are regarded as a condensed form of describing the character or quality of the goods [or services],’ ” the USPTO wrote in citing a previous decision regarding these situations. “In fact, ‘puffing, if anything, is more likely to render a mark merely descriptive, not less so.’”

Another example the Washington Post points to was Papa John’s slogan, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” That didn’t fly with a court in 2000 because the company couldn’t substantiate the claims that it had better ingredients than all of its competitors.

But companies can succeed with these trademarks if they argue that the superlative is a distinguishing mark of the company, Jonathan Hyman, a partner at California-based intellectual property law firm Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear told WaPo.

Papa John’s worked it out eventually, on the basis that their customers had already associated that slogan with the company. That same kind of argument is how Whole Foods managed to score the trademark for “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” in 2010.

The company now has until Jan. 16, 2017 to update its application and refile it in order to still be considered. But if it does reapply, it’s unlikely that Whole Foods be able to prove it’s the “world’s” anything, considering that it only operates in the U.S., Canada, and England, WaPo points out. And because no one is familiar with that slogan in relation to Whole Foods, it likely won’t be able to argue that it’s a distinguishing mark of the company.

Whole Foods just got called out for a pretty big exaggeration [Washington Post]