By Tom Davis, Jr.
The Early Marks
The trademarks registered by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation are an interesting lot. These marks offer an early insight into the future product development of a small hand- picked team brought together by General John T. Thompson, a team that appeared destined for greatness. With almost unlimited financing by New York financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, success seemed virtually guaranteed.
Of course, success can be fickle… and a long time in coming. Looking back at Auto-Ordnance now, it is easy to praise the development of their one great product, the Thompson submachine gun. However, the early years of the Thompson gun would not be defined as successful – unless you were a member of the Irish Republican Army or a Chicago gangster. But success did come. Through the great efforts of the United States Marine Corps in China and Nicaragua during the late 1920s, the American military finally, albeit very slowly, recognized the potential of this new type of weapon. The Thompson gun, marked with the famous Auto-Ordnance trademarks, became well known and respected in World War II by all Allied forces.
There is a good reason why no previous studies have been done on the trademarks registered by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC); the marks are difficult to locate. There is no electronic master indexing of early trademarks for any company at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If your interest lies with early trademarks, especially those that have expired, be prepared to look through a lot of old books. It is a very manual search process, something not routinely performed in this age of push button automation. To that end, be advised the trademarks shown in this story are only the marks uncovered by this author and may not be all the marks registered by AOC.
The first trademark registered, AUT-ORD-CO- was registered on December 23, 1919. This mark was used in many early AOC advertisements and was displayed prominently on the company letterhead for many years. It was also marked on the top of the receiver on the first Colt manufactured Thompsons. The mark was renewed by AOC on December 23, 1939.
The next trademark registered by AOC was for the AUTORIFLE. This was actually the initial development project undertaken by the engineers at AOC; the submachine gun came later. The only known use of this mark was on the stock of a .30 caliber test Autorifle manufactured for AOC by Colt for the 1921 military trials. Unfortunately, this rifle may not have survived as its whereabouts is presently unknown. This mark was registered on January 20, 1920 and renewed on January 20, 1940.
Three more marks were registered for AOC on March 15, 1921. The first was AUTOGUN; the second was AUTOPISTOL. These marks were renewed on March 15, 1941. No AOC literature or firearms have been observed bearing these marks.
General Thompson coined the term SUBMACHINE GUN in American vocabulary with the introduction of a gun bearing his last name. The subsequent registration of this mark on March 15, 1921 came as no surprise. This mark was also renewed by AOC on March 15, 1941.
The mark MACHINE-PISTOL was registered on September 20, 1921. The registration statement was signed by M. H. Thompson, Vice President, Auto-Ordnance Corporation. M. H. Thompson is Marcellus Thompson, the son of General John Thompson. This mark was renewed by AOC on September 20, 1941.
The Thompson Mark
The next mark registered by AOC is the now very familiar Thompson name inside the bullet logo. It was registered on December 27, 1921. AOC had now moved to the well known 302 Broadway, New York address. AOC claimed this mark was for use on “shotguns, pistols, rifles, machine-guns, submachine-guns, field-guns, siege-guns, seacoast-guns, naval guns, magazines for any of said guns, and bayonets…” The registration statement explained, “The word “Thompson” forming an element of the trade mark is a facsimile of the surname of General John Taliaferro Thompson as written by him.” This mark replaced the AUT-ORD-CO- mark stamped on the top of the receiver of Colt manufactured Thompson guns and was renewed by AOC on December 27, 1941.
The Tommy Mark
A change of ownership at the AOC occurred on July 21, 1939. Wall Street securities underwriter John Russell Maguire was able to underwrite a new stock offering that removed the debt ridden AOC from the estate of Thomas Fortune Ryan and gave Maguire control of the company. Feeling another world war was on the horizon, Maguire immediately took steps to put the Thompson gun back in production. AOC officials renewed the registration of all the early AOC trademarks and later registered a new mark – TOMMY. This mark is one half of the now famous designation, TOMMY GUN, and has become a generic expression for nearly all types of submachine guns. Interestingly, AOC registered only one of the two words, TOMMY, on June 2, 1942. This registration was never renewed and lapsed on June 2, 1962.
Careful reading of the Registration document for the mark TOMMY revealed AOC owned another trademark, No. 382793. Review of this mark revealed it is also the word TOMMY, registered on November 12, 1940 by Charles H. Morrill, Jr., the owner of B-B Air Machine Gun, Co. in Santa Monica, California. This company produced “Gallery Air Machine Guns Which Discharge Pellets.” Mr. Morrill had beat AOC to the trademark office for the word TOMMY in the firearms field. The circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the mark TOMMY from Mr. Morrill by AOC are unknown. The original filing date by AOC for the word TOMMY was October 4, 1941. Apparently, the registration ran into some trouble at the Trademark Office and AOC was forced to acquire Mr. Morrill’s rights to this mark before their registration would be accepted and registered over one year later. The registration for No. 382782 was never renewed and lapsed on November 12, 1960.
Maguire knew AOC would not survive after the war if its only product was a very expensive submachine gun designed over 25 years previously. As the war progressed, he took steps to diversify the product line of AOC. One of the first new ventures was in the field of electronics and was the final trademark found to be registered by AOC. This mark was actually used for two Trademark applications, both filed in the later part of 1943.
Shortly after the last AOC trademark was published at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation changed its name to Maguire Industries, Incorporated. The Thompson gun became part of the Auto-Ordnance Division of Maguire Industries, one of many products offered by Russell Maguire. The Law
Trademark registration was for a period of 20 years when all of these marks were initially registered by AOC. Renewal of the trademark every 20 years could keep the mark protected indefinitely. Currently, trademark registrations issued on or after November 16, 1989 only have a ten-year term, renewable every ten years. Trademarks can be bought and sold and then transferred to a new owner in a process known as an Assignment.
After the War…
It is well established that George Numrich, owner of the Numrich Arms Company, purchased all the Thompson assets on October 23, 1951 from former AOC executive Frederic A. Willis. One question often asked is did George Numrich also purchase or acquire the rights to the AOC trademarks. All the marks represented above were still under trademark protection at the time of the sale to George Numrich. Regrettably, this question cannot be completely answered at this time. If an Assignment did occur, it would have had to have happened prior to 1955. There are no Assignment records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prior to 1955 for inactive or dead trademarks. All of the trademarks represented above expired 20 years from the registration date or last renewal date and the files related to these records have been purged. The only record preserved is the initial registration statement and latest renewal information, if any. If George Numrich did own any of the early trademarks, he allowed them all too quietly expire in the late 1950s early 1960s.
One piece of evidence does exist that suggests AOC may have assigned the rights to at least one trademark, the word THOMPSON. The Kilgore Manufacturing Company of Westerville, Ohio, used the trademark THOMPSON in an advertising sales brochure. Kilgore was the first buyer of the Thompson assets, and later sold these assets to Frederic A. Willis.
The “New” Auto-Ordnance Corporation
Fast forward to 1974 and the formation of a new Auto-Ordnance Corporation in West Hurley, New York by Ira Trast, the President of Numrich Arms, and George Numrich. Thompson enthusiasts know this is the “second” Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC) in the history of the Thompson gun – both formed in the State of New York. Records from the New York Secretary State office show this new AOC was created on July 14, 1974. Production of the new ATF approved Thompson Model of 1927A1 semiautomatic rifle began in 1975 with 932 rifles being produced. Manufacture of the full-auto Model of 1928 Thompson submachine gun also began in 1975 with 199 submachine guns being produced. All of these initial rifles and sub-guns produced in 1975, and the years to follow, were marked with the famous Thompson signature in a bullet logo trademark. Unbeknownst to most everyone at the time, this mark was not protected.
The new AOC in West Hurley, New York did not apply for trademark protection of the well known Thompson trademark until 1984, ten years after the new AOC was created.
Mr. Trast, the former President of the Auto-Ordnance Corporation in West Hurley, New York, was contacted for this story. Mr. Trast said the decision to create a “new” Auto-Ordnance Corporation in West Hurley, New York, was an easy decision. He and Mr. Numrich believed a market for a semiautomatic Thompson gun existed. They believed machine guns had become a real “no-no” in the USA, but a semiautomatic version or copy of a popular submachine gun like the Thompson would be a good seller. He recalled it took a lot of time to obtain approval from the Treasury Department’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to manufacture a semiautomatic only Thompson gun.
Mr. Trast does not know if Mr. Numrich owned the original Thompson trademarks. But he has no reason to believe Mr. Numrich did not own the “Thompson” trademark as he certainly owned everything else – and had owned it for a long time. He said George Numrich had tons of Thompson parts and paperwork, all types of tooling, piles of drawings, crates and crates and crates of parts – “you can’t imagine the amount of (Thompson) items we had at Numrich Arms.” However, he does not remember the old or original Thompson trademarks ever being a point of discussion or issue when forming the new AOC.
Mr. Trast recalled the biggest problem they faced in the early years of the new AOC involved getting the semiautomatic gun into production. This was a completely new and very different gun from the full auto Thompson. Production of the full auto Thompson began after the semi-auto gun was underway. Mr. Trast described production of the full auto as “an easy project.” George Numrich had all the drawings and tooling for the full auto guns along with tons of original parts.
When informed about the 10 year difference in the start of the new Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC) and the initial registration of the trademark “Thompson,” Mr. Trast sounded surprised and said “maybe we discovered” we did not own the Thompson trademark and went ahead and registered it. Mr. Trast quickly added that he does not remember anything about this lapse of time in the registration of the name “Thompson.” His memory is not as good as it has been in the past and he wished he had been asked about this 20 years ago as he probably would have remembered a lot more. He said that it is very possible George Numrich may have handled this issue as, “George did take care of a lot of the legal matters” related to the new AOC.
While president of AOC, Mr. Trast recalled hearing comments about how the new AOC was not the original AOC. He purposely stayed away from that debate – “left it alone.” He also remembers some people refusing to do business with the new AOC because it was not the original AOC. Mr. Trast said he and the other employees of AOC were too involved in operating a successful business to worry about such things. He does believe there is a “continuing history” or connection to the original AOC started by General Thompson in 1916, the Thompson as purchased by Mr. Numrich in 1951 and the new AOC he and Mr. Numrich formed in 1974.
Mr. Trast stopped working full time for AOC in 1993 and retired in 1996. His association with George Numrich started in 1966 when he went to work for Numrich Arms Corporation as the Comptroller. He later became the Vice-President and President of Numrich Arms before becoming the president of AOC in West Hurley, New York. He is an accountant by trade.
At the Trademark Office
Documents located at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office show AOC did not submit an application for the registration of the mark “Thompson” until July 25, 1984.
U.S. Trademark Examiner Ernest H. Land initially “refused” the application for Trademark for the mark “Thompson” in December 1984 because the word Thompson is a common surname in the United States. Examiner Land gave the applicants 6 months to reply or this application would be deemed abandoned. He went on to state that “in view of your long use of this mark… a proper claim of distinctiveness” could be made if “the mark has become distinctive as applied to the goods (or services) as a result of your substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce (specifying the type of commerce) for the five years next preceding the filing date of this application. Such a claim must be supported by an affidavit or by a declaration.
“On January 22, 1985, a short affidavit signed by Ira Trast as President of AOC was filed with the Trademark office. Mr. Trast stated he “believes that its trademark THOMPSON has become distinctive as applied to its goods as a result of its substantially exclusive and continuous use in interstate commerce for the five years next preceding the filing date of this application and for many years prior thereto.”
On May 28, 1985, the mark THOMPSON was accepted for publication in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This allowed any interested party a venue to oppose registration.
On February 19, 1991, Mr. Trast, through his attorneys, filed a Declaration with the Commissioner of the Patent and Trademark office declaring everything filed with this office was true and correct under the penalty of perjury and that the mark has been in continuous use in interstate commerce for five consecutive years from September 17, 1985 until present. The declaration further stated that “there had been no final decision adverse to registrant’s claim of ownership of said mark and its rights to register the same or maintain it on the register.”
The registration of the mark was allowed to stand and this small oversight by Mr. Numrich and Mr. Trast in 1974 was remedied. The trademark THOMPSON is currently registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Saeilo Enterprises, Inc. This is the parent company of Kahr Arms, the current owner of the Thompson gun.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N8 (May 2010)|