Takeaway: Purposefully misspelling the name of a product is likely not enough of a change to take a trademark application out of the realm of being considered merely descriptive.
The TTAB recently decided a case regarding the trademark application of Pan American Properties, an alcoholic beverage distributor. The trademark it applied for was “White Sangriiia.” Pan American was not contending that it would preclude anyone from using the terms “white” or “sangria” individually, but rather believed that “White Sangriiia” was fanciful and distinctive because of the combination and misspelling of sangria. The original examiner of the trademark application denied the application because they believed that the term was merely descriptive. The TTAB took up the appeal of the registration denial and determined that the original examiner was correct on the same grounds.
The TTAB determined that the term “sangriiia” would be indicative to consumers of the alcoholic beverage they are purchasing, i.e. “sangria.” They further determined that the misspelling was only a slight difference from the real word for its product. The difference between its previous mark “Gasolina sangriiia” and “White Sangriiia” was that Gasolina Sangriiia did not distinctly describe something that you would readily drink, unless you are associating the drink with Pan American, whereas white sangria is something that people drink all the time. The TTAB determined that “white” described an ingredient of their product and “sangriiia” was an intentional misspelling of the word “sangria” that describes an alcoholic beverage that Pan American sells. It may have been different if they sold an unrelated product, but the name matches the product in this situation so it was determined to be merely descriptive.