Whole Foods’ ‘World’s Healthiest’ Claim Just Got Shot Down

Whole Foods Lower Its Earnings Expectations Amid Increased Competition
Photograph by Spencer Platt — Getty Images

Whole Foods Market can’t claim the title of “World’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” the U.S. government says.

The supermarket chain had applied to trademark the phrase in June, after having secured exclusive rights to the moniker “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” in 2010.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to grant Whole Foods (WFM) the rights to the global superlative, calling it “merely descriptive.” It even schooled the grocery store in English grammar, going so far as to include in its rejection a screenshot of Dictionary.com, showing that “healthiest” is considered an adjective.

The patent regulator frowns on “self-laudatory” and “puffing” trademark applications, because such claims just describe “the character or quality of the goods [or services],” it wrote in its rejection letter. “In fact, ‘puffing, if anything, is more likely to render a mark merely descriptive, not less so,'” it said, citing a previous patent law case.

For example, the patent office also rejected an attempt by Boston Beer Co. (SAM) to trademark “The Best Beer in America,” because it was “merely laudatory and descriptive of applicant’s beer and ale being of superior quality.”

Other supermarkets also make similar claims to healthiness or the world’s best as the one to which Whole Foods aspires, which is evidence that the moniker could apply to more than one company, the patent office pointed out. Fairway, for one, scored a trademark on the “World’s Greatest Food Store” in 2010, but has since declared bankruptcy.

Still, Whole Foods’ “America’s Healthiest” trademark was also initially rejected, Fortune reported, so the grocery store chain may still be able to convince the patent office to change its mind if it submits “evidence and arguments in support of registration,” the regulator said.

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