Photo Credit: G. Baird

The Gong Show was a quirky and absurdly amusing talent show from the 70s.

It was created, produced, and hosted for a number of years by Chuck Barris.

The gong was beaten by one or more judges when they’d had enough of an act.

In reviewing some video of early episodes, shockingly there was no gonging of this mouth percussion, despite the obvious lack of any hand-to-face hygiene.

Until two months ago, Wuhan brand gongs and cymbals were unknown to me.

They reportedly had been used by the late, great Neil Peartdrummer of Rush.

My cymbal arrived a few weeks ago — after being quarantined in our garage, it was wiped down before entering the house for my daughter’s photo shoot.

It will serve as wall-art and a powerful cymbal to never forget this time of pain.

The much larger Wuhan wind gong is still in the garage, but you’ll hear it sound, believe me, when the present crisis is safely in our collective rear-view mirror.

Until then, not surprisingly, there’s a trademark story behind the Wuhan name.

Apparently the Wuhan name is a portmanteau merging portions of the names of three other Chinese cities on the Yangtze river: Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang.

The city of Wuhan has the ninth largest population in China, it is considered the commercial and political center of Central China, and is a manufacturing hub too.

In terms of trademark meaning, under the test applied by USPTO trademark examining attorneys, Wuhan could be considered primarily geographically descriptive, requiring proof of acquired distinctiveness for registration.

At the USPTO, there is only one live application and three Wuhan registrations, none of which required proof of acquired distinctiveness before issuance.

Perhaps, despite its size and importance as a Chinese city, Wuhan was indeed obscure to the average U.S. consumer back in 1997, yet is unlikely to be so now.

The three Wuhan word and stylized trademark registrations are owned by Cardinal Percussion, who reportedly purchased all trademark rights in 2018:

While it appears the cymbals/gongs always have been hand-made in Wuhan, China, the U.S. trademark rights have been held by U.S. companies, with confusion about “fake Wuhans,” gongs coming from other factories in Wuhan, and even litigation in 2016 over Wuhan references to sell competing products.

The registrations are all more than five years old and now incontestable, meaning they cannot be challenged as merely descriptive, but what about genericness?

Incontestable registrations aren’t safe from genericness challenges, so it will be interesting to listen for how this claimed mark might be enforced in the future.

Even if a successful genericness challenge could show the existence of Wuhan as a category of cymbals/gongs, the brand owner likely still could assert logo rights.

Never forget, Miller owns rights in the stylization, for the generic category term:

Given recent events in Wuhan, cymbals and gongs aren’t the only goods that U.S. companies have considered associating with the Wuhan designation.

More than two months ago, in asking whether it is Curtains for Corona, we drew attention to some surprising “Wuhan” intent-to-use trademark applications:

“What puzzles me are the intent-to-use trademark filings last week for Wuhan Vax, Wuhan Corona Vax, Wuhan Mvax, and Wuhan Corona Mvax, all for vaccines.

If a vaccine became available to treat the deadly virus soon, wouldn’t those names be appropriate descriptive or generic vaccine names (not brand or trade names)?

Or, given the USPTO’s heightened focus on incapable informational matter, let’s stay tuned to see how these claimed virus marks are treated during examination.”

We’ll never know for sure how the USPTO would have treated the applications, as the Applicant sounded the gong itself last month, expressly abandoning them all.

We also may never learn if the abandonment was initiated for trademark reasons, or to avoid the debate as to whether using “Wuhan” with the virus stokes racism.

With Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act stripped of its previous protection against scandalous and disparaging marks, even if racist, 2(a) could provide no help now.

For the final act of this (Wuhan) Gong Show, introducing Wuhan Water. Love the alliterative quality, but given recent events, it’s hard to take the filing seriously.

As Barris promised: “We’ll be back, with mor-re ssstuff – right after this message!”