Trademark

Vetting a New Trademark: How Upfront Trademark Diligence Can Minimize Future Headaches

Before adopting a new trademark or filing an application for federal trademark registration, it is wise to conduct clearance searching. There are various purposes behind clearance. These include 1) dispute avoidance; 2) ensuring the mark as strength; 3) evidence of diligence and good housekeeping.

Dispute Avoidance. First and foremost, searching helps assess whether the chosen mark is likely to trigger a dispute with someone who already adopted the same or a similar mark. Importantly, trademark conflicts are not limited to the use of an identical mark for an identical product or service. Instead, the legal analysis typically focuses upon whether the existence of two similar marks in the marketplace might lead consumers to assume that the products come from the same source or that the sources have a relationship or are otherwise associated with each other. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, trademark rights are effective upon the first use of a mark on a commercial product or service. Marks need not be registered. Therefore, the best way to avoid a dispute is to search the landscape of other users in the marketplace to be sure someone else didn’t hatch your great branding idea before you did.

Strength AssessmentKeep reading

Top 4 Trademark Enforcement Tools

A trademark’s value can be lost or weakened when a trademark owner fails to protect or police rights in the marketplace. Even improper and/or inconsistent use of a mark can hamper a trademark owner’s ability to enforce exclusive rights in a selected brand. Even if you own a federal trademark registration, the exclusive rights you own are not “self-executing,” and as the trademark owner, you are ultimately responsible for policing the marketplace, and sometimes your own use, to safeguard against losing rights.

Here are some of the top tools every trademark owner should consider incorporating into its trademark enforcement strategy:

1. Include Proper Notices Of Ownership and Registration of Trademarks. If your mark is not registered, but you have a good faith belief that you own a mark exclusively, you should use “TM” with your mark. This symbol tells the world that you believe yourself to be the rightful mark owner.

Once registered, you should use one of the following forms of notice in connection with each use of the registered trademark, which relates to the types of goods or services described in the Certificate of Registration: ®, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off., or Registered in Keep reading

Expanding Your Trademark Portfolio Overseas: Filing Strategies to Consider

Trademark rights are jurisdictional, meaning a trademark registration issued in the U.S. may be all but worthless in trying to stop infringement in say, Australia. If you do business outside of the U.S., pursuing trademark registrations in other countries may be valuable. U.S. trademark owners have several options with respect to pursuing international trademark rights and the best choice for your company depends on a few factors, including your goals and budget. As a very general rule we often tell clients that, subject to any budgetary constraints, it makes sense to try to obtain trademark protection in those countries where your company currently trades AND where you intend to trade (meaning generate sales/shipments) in the next 18-36 months.

The main paths to pursuing trademark registration in other countries are:

  • to file separate national/regional (where available) applications directly with each local intellectual property office in the country or region of interest; or
  • where feasible, file a single application via the World Intellectual Property Office (“WIPO”), designating the individual countries and regions of interest.

The One Size Fits All Approach – Filing Through WIPO using the “Madrid System”

  • Can be Less Expensive, But Rights Will be Narrower and Vulnerable

One filing … Keep reading

U.S. Trademark Office Heightens Scrutiny of Trademark Applications and Registrations

A relative outlier compared to the trademark regimes in most of the world, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) only permits registrations to be maintained for goods and services that are actually being provided in the U.S. and only allows registrations to issue based on a future “intent to use” in limited circumstances.  In other words, under the U.S.’s trademark system, trademark owners are not entitled to grab additional registered rights beyond the scope of their actual business activities in the U.S.  While previously the Office was somewhat lenient in accepting claims, more recently the USPTO appears to be cracking down on applicants to ensure consistency on the U.S. Register.  A few emerging examination trends demonstrate this trend:

BROAD CLAIMS BASED ON INTENT TO USE

Previously: Applications based solely on the applicant’s stated bona fide intent to provide all claimed goods and services were accepted based on this representation alone.

Recently: The USPTO has started requiring applicants of seemingly unrelated goods and/or services to justify how they could have a bona fide intent to provide various, disparate goods and/or services and explain to the office their business plans to support such a claim.

BROAD CLAIMS Keep reading

Trademark Office Proposed Fee Changes Could Change Filing and Prosecution Strategies

The U.S. Trademark Office announced its intent to increase various filing fees, and assess new categories of fees, in response to its continually increasing operational expenses.  The last time the U.S. Trademark Office changed its fee schedule was January 2017.

Fortunately, the Office has also indicated that it will not implement its proposed fee changes until October 2020 at the earliest.  Even then, the notice suggests that it would weigh its operational needs against the state of the U.S. economy before moving forward with the fee adjustments.

Below is a summary of many of the highlights of the proposed filing fee changes for electronic filings (which the U.S. Trademark Office continues to encourage through lower filing fees compared to filing by paper):

Two new categories of fees are worth noting as they may significantly impact trademark portfolio management strategies.

New Fees Assessed for Delayed Requests for Reconsideration

For the first time, the Office is proposing to assess fees for submitting a Request for Reconsideration where such a request is filed more than three months from the issue date of a Final Action.  Under U.S. trademark practice, if the Office raises an objection, the applicant will have six months … Keep reading

Trademark Audits: What Registrants Should Expect

In 2017, the USPTO initiated an aggressive auditing program of U.S. trademark registrations at the time of maintenance filings. The goal of the program is to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the U.S. register by removing or narrowing registrations that include claims beyond the scope of the registrant’s actual use of its mark in U.S. commerce. The Office is on pace to audit 5000 registrations in 2020 so registrants who have not been tagged as yet should be prepared for an audit in the future.

By way of background, the U.S. system of protection for trademarks, unlike many non-U.S. systems, requires the trademark owner to actually use its mark in U.S. commerce with all the goods or services specified in the registration. Accordingly, to maintain an issued registration the registrant must declare, under oath, that all of the specified goods or services claimed in registration are being provided under the mark to U.S. customers at the time of filing registrant’s Section 8 Declaration of Continued Use (due between the 5th and 6th and years after registration) and Renewal (due every 10 years after registration) filings are due. This “actual use” requirement applies regardless of the original … Keep reading

Supreme Court Helps Trademark Owners: Proof of “Willfulness” Is Not Required To Recover Infringer’s Profits

In April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that trademark infringers can be required to hand over their profits to a brand owner even if their conduct was not “willful.” The case was Romag Fasteners v. Fossil Group, Inc., 590 U.S. (2020). It is an important case for trademark owners because it lowers the plaintiff’s burden to recover a defendant’s ill-gotten profits.  In fact, after Romag, the defendant’s deliberate and intentional state of mind is no longer the critical factor that courts must consider in order to award profits in a trademark infringement case. Romag can be an important weapon for trademark owners against, for example, infringers that use their mark on goods or services that do not directly compete with the trademark owner, where the trademark owner did not necessarily lose a sale and may have no actual damages in that regard. Profit disgorgement by the infringer allows for monetary compensation even if the trademark owner has not been directly damaged in that way.

Fossil is a large and well-known distributor of fashion accessories.  Romag sells magnetic snap fasteners for leather goods. For years, Romag and Fossil had an agreement whereby Fossil used Romag fasteners in … Keep reading

Domain Name Offer: Helpful Service, or Marketing Scam?

In 2013, I blogged about a common deceptive technique used by some publishers around the world that send apparently official invoices to trademark applicants in the hopes that people will reflexively pay outrageous sums for a listing of their brand in a catalog few will read. I wanted to follow up on that post and summarize another common scam that befalls trademark owners and applicants.  I get an inquiry from a client at least 2-3 times per month: “Is This Domain Name Email Legitimate?”The ruse works like this: Trademark owner applies for a trademark in the U.S. or with another office in another country.  Information about the mark and the owner is publicly available to scammers through simple searches. The scammer sends an email to the trademark owner purporting to warn the mark owner of the ill behavior of a potential domain name squatter. Below is an actual email received recently by a client.  I have changed the names in the email to avoid any embarrassment of the recipient, but I otherwise have left the text, including the grammatical errors of the original, intact.

Dear CEO/Principal,

We are the department of [Domain Name] Service in China. Here I Keep reading
What's In a Name?

Question: What do Sean Combs, J.K. Rowling, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, and Mark Wahlberg have in common? Two things, actually. First, they are all listed on the Forbes 2017 Celebrity 100 List; second, they all have gone to the trouble of registering their personal names as trademarks with the U.S Trademark Office. Indeed, of the first 20 celebrities on this “A” list, 19 have sought registration of their names as trademarks.

Trademark Protections For Personal Names

Under Federal law, everyone is entitled to seek protection of his or her name as a brand. The Lanham Act expressly provides that:

No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it … consists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent.

As indicated by the language of the statute, in addition to names, likenesses (portraits) and signatures of individuals are entitled to trademark registration. Several well-known entertainers have taken advantage of this right, including Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Anthony Hopkins Keep reading

That Sound Reminds Me of...

Part of the fun of trademark practice is its unique overlap with literature, art, science, culture, and psychology. Words and symbols are used as trademarks to identify sources of commercial goods; convey messages to consumers that go beyond their pure literal meaning; and, through a curious alchemy of psychology, repetition, aesthetic attraction, and cultural filtering, somehow evoke brand loyalty, leading consumers to open their wallets. Subtle, but powerful messaging animates buyer behavior.

However, if psychology and/or science were the sole driver of branding campaigns, a lot more marketers would stop trying to find the next catchy phrase or word—”Covfefe,” “Google,” “Yelp“—and instead focus on what subliminal force is most likely to create the strongest bond between the consumer and the manufacturer. Despite smell and sound being the more profound links to human feelings and motivations, marketers rarely do more than play at the edges of these forces—by using a jingle occasionally, for example.

Psychoacoustics and the Associations Created by Sound

We’ve all experienced the sensation of hearing a piece of music, or even a familiar sound, and having it transport us back in time to some experience from our youth. When it happens, … Keep reading