The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has provisionally denied Apple's trademark application for "iPad Mini" because the term is "merely descriptive" of the tablet's size.
Notice of the rejection was mailed to Apple on Jan. 25, but was only made public in the last week, according to Patently Apple, which first reported on the decision.
The iPad Mini was launched last October, and went on sale in early November at prices starting at $329. Apple filed for the trademark Nov. 15, 2012.
In denying the application, the USPTO said the examining attorney decided, "The wording merely describes a feature of applicant's goods, namely, a small sized handheld tablet computer." Elsewhere in the letter, the agency cited prior cases, including one that said the word "mini" was just a label for "goods that are produced and sold in miniature form."
The USPTO concluded that, "The mark is merely descriptive of a feature or characteristic of the goods and registration is refused."
It was not a final rejection, however, as Apple has until July 24 to respond to the ruling with counter-arguments or additional evidence to show why iPad Mini should be granted a registered trademark.
"iPad," of course, is a U.S. registered trademark owned by Apple; the Cupertino, Calif., company bought the rights to the U.S. trademark from Fujitsu in March 2010 for an undisclosed amount. Apple has also registered iPad in several foreign countries.
But the company has encountered resistance at times. Last summer, for example, Apple paid $60 million for the Chinese trademark after a little-known company there claimed it was the owner. In that dispute, Apple had contended it had purchased the Chinese trademark -- from the same firm, Proview -- in 2009.
The only other Apple product that includes "Mini" -- the Mac Mini, a pint-sized desktop shipped without monitor or keyboard -- is not a registered trademark, according to searches of the USPTO and Apple's own list.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.