Helping “Insure” Your Success: When and How to Use “Insurance” Extension Requests for US Trademark Applications

You might remember from our “How Much Use Equals ‘Use’?” post that the USPTO can be picky when it comes to accepting proof that a brand is in use (and, of course, when we say “use,” we mean that special kind of “trademark use” that the USPTO is looking for – i.e., use of a brand in connection with products or services offered in commerce).

Luckily, owners of trademark applications based on proposed use have some time to develop and submit proof of use.  After an initial 6-month period, a trademark owner may request up to five 6-month extensions before it has to file proof that its brand is in use (that’s a total of three years!).  Of course, while taking advantage of these extensions might be helpful in some cases, the faster a trademark owner can submit an acceptable example of use, the faster its application can proceed to registration.

You might be thinking:  “I’m using my brand – but am I using it in a way that meets all of the USPTO’s strict criteria?”  If you’re not sure, you could file an “insurance” extension request along with your proof of use.  An “insurance” extension request provides trademark owners with six additional months to submit new proof of use, if needed.

Example B below shows how a trademark owner can use an “insurance” extension request to its advantage:

Example A:  A US trademark application is allowed on January 1, 2017.  A trademark owner submits evidence of use on July 1, 2017.  The USPTO rejects the evidence of use on July 30, 2017.  In some cases, the application may lapse unless the trademark owner can convince the USPTO to accept the original evidence of use.

Example B:  The application is allowed on January 1, 2017.  A trademark owner submits evidence of use on July 1, 2017, and also files an “insurance” extension request.  The USPTO rejects the evidence of use on July 30, 2017.  Because it filed an “insurance” extension request, the trademark owner has until January 1, 2018 to file entirely new evidence of use.

And there you have it – one way to gain a few extra valuable months when finding and submitting proof of use.   This can make the difference between maintaining an existing application or having to start the application process all over again.

A few pointers when considering whether to file an “insurance” extension request:

Timing:  Only one “insurance” extension request may be filed per application, and it must be submitted in the same 6-month period as the proposed example of use.  Once an “insurance” extension is requested, the trademark owner cannot request any further extensions of time.  Filing an “insurance” extension request also can’t extend the time allotted for the trademark owner to file evidence of use by more than three years.

Additional Fees:  Submitting an “insurance” extension request requires additional filing fees.

Office Actions:  Filing an “insurance” extension request alone is not a sufficient response to an Office action, or rejection of evidence, from the USPTO.  It also doesn’t extend the deadline to respond to the Office action.

Not sure an “insurance” request is right for you?  Might be a good time to ask a trademark attorney to lend a hand!

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.

How Much Use Equals “Use”? Decoding Common Specimen Refusals issued by the USPTO

Filing a trademark example of use in the USA?  You think, piece of cake.  At this point you have jumped through the application hoops, chosen and narrowed your classes of goods and services appropriately and are ready to get the coveted “circle R.”  You jump on your website, see the mark clearly used on the first page, hit “print,” and send it to the USPTO.

Except…

Wait, how can use not be considered “use”?  As it turns out, simply displaying a mark is often not enough.  Below are some tips for decoding three common specimen rejections issued by the USPTO and finding a suitable example of use. Continue reading

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

Brexit & Your Trade Marks – Some Practical Questions Answered (Guest Post from UK Firm HGF)

We found this update from the UK firm HGF ( www.hgf.com ) helpful, and thought you might, too — so we asked permission to re-post it here.  Enjoy!  P.S. Since we’re lawyers, we have to mention that HGF is not affiliated with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, and the views expressed in this post are those of HGF, and not those of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP or its clients.– DBRanding® Blog Editors

You will no doubt have received many updates from IP law firms discussing the potentially new landscape for IP rights in the UK and EU in the longer term. Some are long, some short, some academic, but maybe not all practical.

The following briefing answers some of the more practical questions and concerns around managing your trade mark portfolio in light of Brexit. With change comes opportunity, and we at HGF are here to help you maximise that opportunity. We do not claim to know all that will transpire in the next few years come Brexit, no one does, but we hope these initial practical pointers below will help you along the way.

As a European firm of intellectual property specialists with locations in both the UK and mainland Europe, HGF will continue to offer a fully integrated team of professionals in the EU covering not only trade marks, but patents, designs, contentious and non-contentious IP law. Continue reading

Marco v. Polo: Navigating Around “Likelihood of Confusion” Refusals

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.

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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!