Lock on suitcase

Revoking TSA Lock trademark IPC court finds IP Offices mistake

By James Wan

What you need to know (in a nutshell)

  1. The Taiwan Intellectual Property and Commercial Court (IPC Court) found that the IP Office and Board of Appeals failed to uphold the registration of the TSA LOCK trademark and ordered its revocation as it had become generic.
  2. Although registered trademarks typically have a presumption of validity, courts can still declare them too general, making this valuable ruling case law for future reference.
  3. The case began with Travel Sentry filing a trademark application for ‘TSA Lock’ in 2015. Still, Safe Skies later submitted a cancellation action, arguing that ‘TSA lock’ had become so common it was merely a generic term. The IPC court agreed after reviewing extensive evidence and found that the term ‘TSA’ was widely known as an abbreviation for Transportation Security Administration, used for universal master keys, and no longer served as a brand identifier.

Full Article

In a recent judgment, the Taiwan Intellectual Property and Commercial Court (IPC Court) determined that the IP Office and Board of Appeals had made an error in sustaining the registration of the TSA LOCK trademark. As a result, in line with Article 63(1) of Taiwan’s Trademark Act, which mandates the revocation of a trademark registration if it becomes a generic mark or term, the court ordered the trademark’s cancellation due to its loss of distinctiveness by becoming generic.

While registered trademarks typically enjoy a presumption of validity, courts retain the authority to declare them overly general, causing legal professionals to regard this particular ruling as a valuable precedent for future cases. The origins of this judgment trace back to 2015 when Travel Sentry filed an application to protect four classes related to ‘TSA Lock’ (reg no 1227603): Class 6 – metal locks for luggage; Class 18 – bag packs, athletic bags, gym bags, and luggage; Class 20 – non-metal locks for luggage; and Class 22 – straps for luggage. However, Safe Skies submitted a cancellation action two years later, asserting that the term ‘TSA lock’ had become so commonplace that it no longer indicated source origin, prompting a series of appeals that ultimately led to the IPC court’s agreement.

After reviewing extensive evidence, including US newspaper and magazine clippings, Linuxpilot blog excerpts, and letters from official authorities, the court found sufficient grounds to show that the characters ‘TSA’ were widely recognised as an abbreviation for the Transportation Security Administration, used on universal master keys allowing Customs to open passengers’ suitcases without breaking the physical lock. Moreover, local retailer websites selling items labelled ‘TSA Lock’ demonstrated broad consumer acceptance of the term as a descriptive phrase rather than a brand identifier, indicating that the term’s primary significance had shifted away from its essential function of guaranteeing goods sourced from a specific location. Consequently, the trademark became ineligible for further protection, which could monopolise a common product description and potentially hinder market competition. To prevent similar issues from arising in the future, active monitoring of external markers and measures against third-party misuse are recommended.