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Whole Foods' application to brand itself as the "World's Healthiest Grocery Store" has been rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, MarketWatch reports.
The letter deemed the applied-for tagline was "merely descriptive" (in other words, not factual); the Patent Office disapproves of "self-laudatory" and "puffing" trademark applications, which it considers "more likely to render a mark merely descriptive, not less so." The office also pointed out that other stores make similar claims to healthiness, proving that the name could be applied to multiple businesses.
(So, a tip: If applying for a U.S. patent, avoid unsubstantiated superlatives.)
But will the rejection stick? As Fortune noted, Whole Foods' current trademark—"America's Healthiest Grocery Store"—was also initially rejected. (When companies do register successfully for these sweeping trademarks, the Washington Post explains, it's because they can argue that the title is a "distinguishing mark of the company"—one that their consumers already associate with the brand").
So America first, the world, next? Not so fast. Whole Foods has been slow to break into the global market and, without that leverage, may have a hard time fighting the rejection (which is not final—the company has until January to update and refile the case).
Still, the application could be a sign that the store's worldwide ambitions are just beginning.
Our take? It's more exploitation of the confusion surrounding the words "healthy" and "healthiest."
Can a grocery store—where you can find foods that some would consider "healthy" and some "unhealthy"; where you can buy produce NY Mag reports will harm you and the environment; where you can buy water-sucking tomatoes and almonds—really be the healthiest? And who gets to decide that?
For now, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
What's your take? Can one grocery store really be healthier than another? Or is it the choices you make at the store that matter?