If you own a U.S. trademark registration, chances are you’ve received official-looking solicitations offering to handle trademark services on your behalf in return for a fee. Read these notices carefully – more often than not, they don’t come from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Instead, they’re sent by private companies that have obtained your contact information from the publicly accessible USPTO trademark database. Worse than that, these notices may ask trademark owners to pay thousands of dollars in fees in exchange for services that aren’t even timely or necessary.
While most of our posts relate to trademark matters, brand owners should also be aware of some common misconceptions about copyright law, which we debunk in the following article. This post is based on the authors’ article “Debunking Copyright Myths,” originally published in Landslide® magazine, Vol. 11, No. 6, July/August 2019, by the American Bar Association.
These days it seems that copyright law is everywhere, from lawsuits alleging that the multiplayer online battle game Fortnite infringed popular dance moves such as the floss,1 to the Ninth Circuit agreeing that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” infringed Marvin Gaye’s copyrighted hit song “Got to Give It Up.”2 As the Internet and technology have become omnipresent in our lives, the constant availability of copyrighted content—from streamed music to photos and posts on social media—has led to the perpetuation of copyright myths. Unfortunately, these myths and numerous others have caused misconceptions over the rights of the copyright holder and the obligations of the user.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Iancu v. Brunetti will likely not be the last word on the subject of scandalous trademarks being granted registration. That certainly suggests there is room for further interpretation in the future, especially if Congress elects to amend the Lanham Act. Further, four Justices voiced some degree of concern about scandalous marks being granted registration.
This month’s dramatic announcement by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that all foreign domiciled trademark applicants, registrants and parties to USPTO trademark proceedings will now be required to retain U.S. counsel is expected to result in the most significant practical change to domestic trademark prosecution practice in years.
For casual observers, this new rule — set to be effective on Aug. 3, 2019 — may have arrived as an unexpected, or even shocking, development. After all, with this announcement, literally tens of thousands of active, foreign-domiciled participants in the trademark processes of the USPTO will suddenly now require representation by a U.S. attorney, altering years of common practice.
Moreover, the time from announcement to implementation — only 32 days — is remarkably short for agency action of any kind, let alone a new rule set to transform the role of trademark practitioners in relation to a massive class of new clients.
“Running an international promotion can’t be that difficult, right? Won’t the same rules work everywhere?”
The rules for sweepstakes, contests, and other promotions vary dramatically by country, and sometimes by province or local jurisdiction. A promotion that is perfectly legal in the United States is not necessarily permitted in any other country – even a nation like Canada can have significantly different rules of the road, including registration requirements in Quebec. In short: assume nothing!
While it is crucial to consult with local counsel in each country to clear international promotions of any kind (and we rely on our network of foreign associates to confirm compliance with current local laws), we thought it would be useful to list a few of the interesting rules and regulations we have encountered in recent years while coordinating global promotions for our clients:
- The promotion’s official rules and advertisements must appear in the local language. (Argentina, Canada, Norway, Russia, and many others)
- Some countries make promotion winners responsible for taxes related to the prize (Malaysia), while other countries place the tax responsibility on the sponsor (e.g., Spain and Mexico).
- Governmental authorities must pre-approve promotions. (Brazil)
- Contestants must provide express written consent to the use of their images, and the Official Rules must specify where the image will be used. (Dominican Republic)
- Only skill-based contests are permissible. (Israel, Sweden)
- The rules must be filed with governmental authorities before the promotion commences, the sponsor must seek a bond, and local authorities must supervise the selection of winners. (Italy)
- Local law specifies the maximum prize value for chance-based games. (Netherlands)
- Proof of purchase promotions for chance-based games may be OK, but the sponsor cannot charge the entrant a fee to enter the promotion. (Australia)
This represents just a peek into some of the twists and turns you might encounter when structuring a global promotion – and the rules are changing all the time. As US lawyers, we cannot, and do not, offer legal advice in connection with the laws of other nations, which is why it is so important to have a network of lawyers around the world who can help a promotion comply across borders and cultures and legal systems. And remember: allow yourself plenty of lead time to confirm local requirements before you announce the promotion!
We are tickled pink when we get to work with trademark registrations that issued before we were born. (We won’t say when that was.) It’s nifty to be the steward of a trademark that has stood the test of time and that may endure long after we’ve headed off to the Great Principal Register in the Sky (no Supplemental Register for us, no sirree).
But what if your old, venerable logo is due for some sprucing up? Please don’t immediately assume that a logo refresh means that you will need to start over with a new trademark application and allow your old logo registration to lapse. You may be able to amend your national U.S. trademark registration to cover the most current version of your logo, so long as the new logo isn’t a “material alteration” of the original registered logo. This allows you to preserve your original priority date that is associated with your old registration! (Note: this won’t work for registrations obtained in the USA via the Madrid Protocol. Sorry.)
This post is for those who gain pleasure from tidying up. It’s springtime here in DC, so let’s roll up our sleeves and declutter! Your trademark portfolio, that is. You’ll gain a sense of accomplishment AND you can humble-brag about your magical money-saving skills.
As the proud owner of a trademark, you will encounter a number of situations that may prompt you or your company to consider granting a trademark license. Navigating the process of selecting a mark, conducting a trademark search and securing a trademark registration is no small feat. Now that you have accomplished these goals, it is important to make sure you are getting the most out of your investment of time, energy and money. A trademark license may be the most effective way to ensure that your trademark rights primarily benefit you and not a third party.
When people talk about data privacy, or data collection, or tracking technology, or analytics, or click farms, or bots, or data brokers, or geolocation, or mobile apps, or social media, or influencers, in the end what they’re really talking about is digital advertising. Yet while we may feel comfortable using the phrase to broadly describe any online marketing efforts, the purpose of digital advertising is quite different from the goal of a 30 second radio spot, and shares little with its Mad Men-era ancestors beyond the name.
But today, faced with a variety of new laws and regulations designed to protect consumer privacy, lawyers and their clients are obliged to take a much deeper and more nuanced dive into modern methods of digital advertising. And many are surprised at what they find.
The ability of any individual, without access to sophisticated technology, to decipher the “authenticity” of any experience is diminishing daily. Moreover, this threat to the integrity of the law goes beyond digital impersonation and “deep fake” software driven by artificial intelligence. The famous Marx Brothers line, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” was once funny because it was ridiculous. Soon, it will be a description of our jobs and our lives.