Trademark Victory

Court upholds NAR’s right to “REALTOR®” trademark

May 1, 2004

In a major victory for REALTORS a three-judge panel of the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has unanimously ruled that the terms Realtor® and Realtors® are not generic terms. The ruling came as part of the panel’s denial of two petitions to cancel the rights to these terms held by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS.

In their 39-page opinion, the judges made the affirmative finding that the terms are not generic—that is, they are not synonymous with “real estate agent” or “real estate agents”—and concluded that the petitioner failed to prove otherwise. The judges pointed out that NAR had consistently taken steps to emphasize its ownership of the collective membership marks and to contest improper uses.

“This is a tremendous victory for REALTORS everywhere, affirming our right to the terms REALTOR and REALTORS which designate the highest standards of professionalism and commitment to a strict Code of Ethics,” NAR President Walt McDonald said in a statement released shortly after the decision. “The trademark decision puts to rest any question about NAR’s exclusive rights to these terms.”

Since 1916, when “REALTOR ” was coined, the term has come to be recognized as identifying members of NAR. The association registered the trademarks in 1949 and 1950, soon after a new trademark law went into effect.

The Trademark Board’s decision was the most recent in a series of unsuccessful challenges to NAR’s right to the terms. It was issued in a case brought by Jacob Zimmerman, a former Cornell University student, who had registered approximately 1,900 domain names containing “realtor” in hopes of making money selling the URLs. The ruling came on March 31.

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