Trademark Traps for the Unwary, Part 1: Black-and-White Registrations Abroad are a Gray Area

US trademark aficionados know that US registrations depicting logos in black and white allow the trademark owner to display the registered mark in any color.  Filing in black and white is often a good way to achieve broader protection in the States, and it helps avoid your having to file a new application if you change the color of your logo in the future.  The next time you want to protect your logo outside the USA, however, pause before you send that email to local counsel or submit your Madrid Protocol application depicting the logo in black and white.  It’s not safe to assume that a black-and-white registration outside the USA confers “universal” protection for a mark displayed in any color.

To elaborate:  counsel in a number of jurisdictions have informed us that black-and-white registrations may not protect marks displayed in any color.  We’ve heard this from the EU, Kazakhstan, and Thailand, among other places – though you will of course want to check this with your own local counsel, since this is a fact-specific issue.  Worse yet, black-and-white registrations outside the USA may be subject to attack on non-use grounds if the trademark isn’t used in black and white.  (How often does that happen?!)

We haven’t run across a treatise or other resource that drills down to this level of trademark nerddom, so this might be a good topic to add to the next edition of the Country Guides (accessible to members of the International Trademark Association).  In the meantime – now you’re equipped to ask some more pre-filing questions, to help ensure that your future logo applications will achieve maximum protection.

Lee v. Tam: January 18 Panel Discussion on Supreme Court Oral Argument

On January 18, the Supreme Court will conduct oral argument in Lee v. Tam, a much-discussed case presenting a First Amendment challenge to the disparagement provision of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.  The Supreme Court is reviewing a Federal Circuit en banc decision that the disparagement provision is unconstitutional.  Later that day, the American University College of Law Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) will be hosting and webcasting a live panel discussion of the Supreme Court argument.

Drinker Biddle partner Jesse Witten will participate in the panel, along with other attorneys for the parties and amici.  Mr. Witten filed an amicus brief on behalf of Amanda Blackhorse and other Native American individuals who have sought cancellation of the trademark registrations of the Washington NFL team.

You are invited to attend the panel discussion or to watch the event live by webinar.  The discussion will occur from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m., Eastern, on January 18 at 4300 Nebraska Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., followed by a reception.  For more information, please visit the PIJIP website: http://www.pijip.org/tam/

A Second Chance for Supplemental Register Registrations: Debunking “Myths” about Re-Filing on the Principal Register

You might remember from Tore DeBella’s post on deciding between Principal and Supplemental Register registration that the Principal Register is the place to be if you’re a trademark owner. But what if the best you could do was secure a Supplemental Register, or “second best,” kind of registration?

Don’t despair!

It might be possible to find your way to the Principal Register even if your mark initially landed on the Supplemental Register.  If a mark has acquired distinctiveness – or significance as a brand name – while on the Supplemental Register, it may become eligible for registration on the Principal Register.  We’ve noticed a few common misconceptions about this process.  Below, we do our best to debunk the “myths” we most often hear: Continue reading

Seven Strategies for Speedy Service Mark (and Trademark) Registration

We really love registering service marks. Trademarks, too. (Mentioning service marks in the title of this post better served our alliterative inclinations.) What’s even more fun is finding new ways to register trademarks as quickly and cost-effectively as possible – which frees up time and money we can use to…register more trademarks.  Hooray!

In case you are of a similar mindset, here are some things to ponder while you work on a new US application.

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The “Principal” of the Matter: Deciding Between Principal and Supplemental Register Registration

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

Speaking the Language of the Trademark Office: Descriptions of Goods and Services

One of the most important steps when preparing a new trademark application is creating the list of the products or services that the trademark will identify.

Think about it:  This list defines the scope of your registered rights in a mark.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will use this list to determine whether your mark is confusingly similar to those in prior applications and registrations, and competitors will use it to gauge whether they can get away with adopting a similar brand.  Plus, if your description of goods and services is inaccurate, your trademark registration can be exposed to cancellation.  High stakes!

Ever take a look at one of these descriptions and wonder what on earth it means?  “Providing temporary use of on-line non-downloadable software and applications for {specify the function of the programs, e.g., for use in database management, for use as a spreadsheet, for word processing, etc. and, if software is content- or field-specific, the field of use}”?  That’s a lot to take in all at once – so let’s break it down.  Continue reading

What to Know (and Ask!) When Opposing a Foreign Trademark Application

It’s a typical afternoon in the office.  You’re taking a look at the watch notices your trademark watching service has recently forwarded for your review – when all of a sudden, you come across a third-party application filed outside the USA for a mark that looks an awful lot like one of your brands.

So, what do you do?

Time to get in touch with local counsel to figure out whether it’s advisable – or even possible – to challenge the registration of this application in their country.

Below, we list some of our favorite tricks for quickly and efficiently getting all the information needed to determine next steps and avoid surprises.  (Pro-tip:  Drop all your questions for counsel into a single email when you have a looming opposition deadline and time is of the essence!)

  1. The very first step is to make sure counsel doesn’t have any conflicts helping you out – this is an important one!
  1. Worried about deadlines? Confirm with counsel that the opposition deadline is the date listed on the watch notice (beware – they don’t always match!), and ask if extensions are available.
  1. When asking about estimated costs, we like to know the “worst case scenario” – that is, the total fees and expenses when dealing with an applicant who aggressively contests the opposition.  Knowing this information up front can help to avoid some unpleasant billing surprises!
  1. Though you’ll want to understand your chances of succeeding in any opposition, it’s a good idea to get the whole story.  Could this applicant turn around and challenge the registration of your brands in this or another country?  Be sure to discuss the risks of opposing with counsel.
  1. Immediately ask whether a Power of Attorney or other documentation will be required.  If you decide to oppose at the last minute, you’ll already have the document in hand and can simply sign and return it to counsel.  If you’re told legalized documents are needed, consider asking whether PDF copies will suffice to meet the deadline.

Finally, don’t forget to give counsel a head start – in addition to forwarding the watch notice you spotted, let them know about the relevant applications and registrations you own and any history you might have with the applicant.

Taking advantage of these tips and tricks will help you make the most informed decision possible going forward.  And the sooner you can deal with a potential infringer, the better!

Are You Brand Obsessed?

Are you one of those trademark professionals who can’t shed your “Brand Police” identity no matter where you are or what you’re doing?  Take this quiz to assess whether you are truly Brand Obsessed:

  1. When you’re on vacation, do you make detours to out-of-the-way shops to find out if they carry the brands you work with?
  2. Do you get especially excited when you see your brands outside your home country?
  3. Have you talked about trademark matters so much that family members now ask you why a store’s sign shows a “TM” notice rather than an encircled-R notice?
  4. Do family members also ask you “Why was Company X able to register that mark?  Isn’t that merely descriptive?”
  5. When you like someone’s clothing, do you ask “Who makes that?” and not “Where did you buy that?”
  6. Do you often try to identify the source of others’ handbags, shoes and wallets by looking at their shape, material and hardware, just because you think it’s fun?
  7. Do you clip “look for” or anti-genericide advertising from publications you read at home, so you can show them to the marketing team?
  8. Do you use the Trademark Office’s web site to look up brands you encountered on your personal shopping trips?
  9. Does your phone contain more photos of Trademark Office specimens than photos of loved ones?
  10. Does your phone contain more photos of potential infringement than photos of your dog or cat?

If you said “Yes” to 5 or more of the above, it’s confirmed… you are indeed Brand Obsessed.   Welcome to the ranks!

 

Give Your Brand Some Love

When it comes to trademarks, the phrase “use it or lose it” is fitting.

If a trademark is used properly, your rights in the mark can last forever.  Fun fact:  The oldest registered trademark in the USA is more than 130 years old, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (meaning it was registered in 1884)!

Other trademarks haven’t fared so well.  For example, the mark DRY ICE used to function as a brand – meaning it distinguished a particular product from those sold by other businesses.  Over time, however, consumers started using this mark incorrectly, and eventually understood it to be the generic name of the product itself rather than the source-indicating brand (i.e., all mist produced by solid carbon dioxide is now called “dry ice”).  As a result, everyone – not just the trademark owner – can now use this mark to refer to the product.

So, how do you use a trademark “properly” to avoid losing these important rights?  Let’s face it:  You’re in a long-term relationship with your brand, so it’s important to give it a little love.  The key is remembering that trademarks are special.  What we mean is that trademarks are different from ordinary words, so they should be treated as such.  The more a trademark owner can do to make its mark stand out from the words around it, the stronger that mark will be.

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Top Twelve Tips for Avoiding the Foreign Filing Deadline Crunch

Our corner of the IP world is chock-full of minutiae – powers of attorney, legalized declarations of intent to use, merger certificates, you name it.  So how do we manage all those details and still meet dozens of filing deadlines every week?

Very carefully.

Seriously, here are a few tricks we use to tackle foreign trademark filing and renewal requirements. These tactics help us meet deadlines with time to spare, and without having to go back to our clients multiple times to request additional documents. We’re all about efficiency!

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