The USPTO's decision came in the form of a letter to Apple (via Forbes), in which the application reviewer refused registration of the trademark on grounds that "the applied-for mark merely describes a feature or characteristic of applicant's goods." The USPTO deems a mark "merely descriptive" "if it describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose, or use of an applicant's goods and/or services."
Apple filed a trademark application for the iPad mini name shortly after it launched the device last year. The refusal letter, TechCrunch notes, was mailed to Apple on January 24, but only made public in the last few days.
In denying Apple's request, the reviewer notes that "the term 'MINI' in the applied for mark is also descriptive of a feature of applicant's product. Specifically, the attached evidence shows this wording means "something that is distinctively smaller than other members of its type or class'. See attached definition. The word 'mini' has been held merely descriptive of goods that are produced and sold in miniature form."
The reviewer also attaches multiple examples pulled from the Internet of a range of products marketed with the term "mini" attached to their names in some fashion. The commonness of the term, the reviewer argues, means that Apples use of the term signifies only "a small sized handheld tablet computer," and does not constitute "a unitary mark with a unique, incongruous, or otherwise nondescriptive meaning in relation to the goods and/or services."
The January letter also provided additional grounds for refusal of the application. A "web catalog or web page specimen," the letter says, "is not acceptable to show trademark use as a display associated with the goods because it fails to include a picture or a sufficient textual description of the goods in sufficiently close proximity to the necessary ordering information." Apple had submitted the iPad mini trademark application with images from its product webpages. Patently Apple notes that Apple commonly does so when submitting applications, and the USPTO does not seem to explain how this case is any different.
Apple has already secured a trademark on "iPad" in the United States and in multiple other countries around the world. The iPad maker can still amend its application for a trademark, provided it can prove that "a portion of the mark has acquired distinctiveness." Apple has until July 24 to better explain how "iPad mini" is sufficiently different from the larger-sized iPad to merit its own trademark.