If trademark infringement and dilution are frequent headaches for brand owners, counterfeiting – which the U.S. Trademark Act defines as use of “a spurious mark identical with, or substantially indistinguishable from, a registered mark” – is a migraine. As a practical matter, counterfeiting in most cases renders perfunctory the task of analyzing the “likelihood of confusion factors” required in traditional infringement cases. In counterfeit cases, the marks and goods are identical, and the counterfeit mark was applied with the intent to deceive consumers into believing that fake goods are genuine, so it’s reasonable to assume it will do exactly that.
In a September 6, 2018 webinar hosted by CompuMark, I presented on the very important topic of trademark watching services. Thanks to CompuMark for inviting me to speak, and to everyone who attended the webinar and asked great questions! (If all goes according to plan, future blog posts may cover some of the questions we ran out of time to answer during the webinar). For those who weren’t able to make the webinar during the live presentation, you can access a copy on CompuMark’s website (you’ll need to register on the right side of the screen).
Ever wonder what dance parties and trademark searching have in common? Neither did we. But I can’t deny this title reminds me of a dance party. Maybe because today is Friday (today is Friday, right?).
We often receive requests to file new applications for clients who have already cleared a potential mark through searching the PTO records and the Internet. If done properly, a bit of self-help can cut down on legal expenses. However, a proper preliminary search can be tricky – it involves more than just plugging the exact mark into the “basic search” feature on the PTO website here (“Quick Links” -> “TESS” -> “Basic Word Mark Search”) and hitting “submit query.”
As we mentioned last month in our kickoff post on this topic, we are excited to dive deeper into the world of sweepstakes and promotions law. This post explores several key elements to keep in mind when formulating the official rules and abbreviated rules for a promotion.
The main goal of the official rules in any promotion is two-fold: (a) to inform participants and the public regarding the details of the promotion, and (b) to comply with a series of federal and state laws and regulations. Both of these goals are critical – no company wants to face either disgruntled participants or angry regulators.
The rules must be in place and finalized before the promotion begins. If you are running a U.S.-based sweepstakes with a total prize value of over $5,000, you may also be required to register and bond the promotion with various state agencies up to thirty days before the promotion begins. Registration will require you to submit a copy of the promotion rules, so keep in mind that in those cases, the rules must be finalized at least thirty days before the beginning of the promotion. That means the clock is ticking! Depending on the type of promotion, other state laws and regulations may also be implicated, so be sure to check well before the beginning of the promotion. Continue reading
As we proudly admit on this blog’s “About Us” page, we’re passionate about all things brand related – and what better way to promote your brand than by running a sweepstakes or contest? At a time when we are seeing the “gamification” of every part of our lives, it should come as no surprise to see that many brands now include prizes and rewards as a significant component of their consumer outreach. Where once upon a time this was a niche explored by only a handful of large companies or fly-by-night operators, today, prize promotions are seen by many of our clients as among their most effective forms of advertising.
The concept is wonderfully simple: in a prize promotion, someone enters the promotion, and someone wins a prize. Yet this basic formulation encompasses a nearly endless number of variations, including sweepstakes, contests, games, trade promotions, sales incentives and viral engagement. Some of these variants are legal; some are not. And because we have been so passionate about sweepstakes and contests for so long, we’ve decided to explain the basics in a helpful, multi-post series on the topic. There’s a lot of nuance, and it would be impossible to cover it all in one place, but we think that once we’re done you’ll be as excited about this area of the law as we are. Continue reading
This past weekend, the Brand Activation Association (BAA), a division of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), held its 38th Annual Marketing Law Conference in Chicago, Illinois. The author, along with two other members of Drinker Biddle’s branding team, attended the conference, which is widely regarded as one of the top conferences on marketing and advertising law, with deep practical legal content. The conference was co-chaired by legal counsel from Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, and Twitter, and speakers included representatives from Airbnb, American Express, Buzzfeed, Expedia, Facebook, Intel, Lyft, MasterCard, McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, VISA, AT&T, WPP, Mondelez, Sears and at least 30 other companies. Continue reading
I’ll start this post by acknowledging the misleading title – rarely, if ever, does a federal trademark applicant independently decide to register its mark on the Supplemental Register in the United States. Whereas registration on the Principal Register is the “gold standard” for federal trademark applicants, the Supplemental Register offers a “second best” kind of registration, which provides some, but not a full complement, of benefits. Continue reading
There are refusals, and then there are refusals, and a “likelihood of confusion” refusal (also called a “Section 2(d)” refusal in the US) is certainly of the latter variety. But most times you don’t need to be an expert navigator to traverse these choppy waters and successfully sail your application through to registration. All it takes is a little bit of “pathfinding” (investigating) on your part, and “charting a course” (developing a strategic approach) for moving forward.
And then I ran out of explorer metaphors.
As consolation, here are some thoughts about how to approach and respond to these kinds of refusals, which are among the most daunting. Some, but not all, of the tips below apply equally to “likelihood of confusion” refusals encountered in the USA and in trademark offices abroad.
It happens to even the most diligent companies. You file to register your corporate name in a state where you’re seeking to do business, and before the ink has even dried on the application, you receive notice that your application has been rejected because your proposed name is allegedly too similar to the registered business name of a third party in the state.
You’re distraught – perhaps you had even performed a trademark search to clear the name, and that search didn’t reveal evidence of any use of conflicting names in the marketplace. This was supposed to be a breeze, and a delay could present serious business interruption costs. How can this happen and what can you do?
The bad news first – sometimes, conflicts like this are unavoidable. States’ practices vary as to how frequently they remove old or inactive corporate name registrations from their books, meaning your application could be blocked by a company that’s no longer doing any meaningful business in the state, or perhaps never was. The state may offer little information about the refusal grounds or the blocking party (sometimes, it won’t even issue a written letter) – so obtaining something substantive is often the first step.
The good news – in many (if not most) states, there are formal or informal processes in place to appeal the refusal. One potential means of appealing is by arguing that no confusion is likely to arise between the parties’ uses of their respective names. The factors in making that determination often mirror those applied in trademark law – for instance, differences in the names, differences in the businesses, geographic proximity of the parties, etc. – but not always. Usually, the governing state statute will be posted on the Secretary of State’s website, so you can see what the factors are.
Another potential option is obtaining the consent of the blocking party. Many states will withdraw refusals if you submit a consent – but be warned, this can be risky. The blocking party may demand money in exchange for its consent. And if you have already been using the name, the blocking party may sue you for infringement.
Often, the best way to evaluate your potential options is to call the Secretary of State’s office. You may be told that the office cannot provide legal advice, but usually you can learn at least what options are available and what the relevant laws might be. Then, if the path forward isn’t clear, a lawyer or third-party service provider may be able to help.
So you’ve protected your trademark in the USA – nice work! But you have longer-term aspirations to take your business abroad. What are some things you should be thinking about now, or actions you should be taking?
First, think about your long term brand goals. Once your goals are clear, take steps to understand the costs of global protection, and make efficient tradeoffs between those costs and maximizing protection. Continue reading