Businesses operating in the European Union may be familiar with the concept of “seniority.” By claiming seniority, an owner of an EU trademark registration may be able to claim prior rights based on existing national trademark registrations in EU member countries. To illustrate when a business might claim seniority, take the following example:
What? A trademark lawyer suggesting that you needn’t always conduct a full-scale trademark search before you file a new trademark application? Isn’t that tantamount to driving without a seat belt? Hear us out.
You’ve acquired a new trademark portfolio. Hooray! But wait … as you’re sorting through the marks you’re now handling, you notice some errors and inconsistencies in the owners’ information.
We tend to think that trademarks, in general, are pretty special.
However, a “special” trademark application has a … well … special meaning to the PTO. The PTO normally examines applications in the order it receives them, which can take about three to four months. That said, there are two ways to make an application “special” so that the PTO will pull the application out of order and expedite its initial examination.
A trademark assignment is the transfer of ownership of a mark. This usually entails having the owner transfer all its rights, title and interest in a given mark to a third party.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, imagine you’re not just assigning one trademark to a third party – instead you’re transferring an entire portfolio containing hundreds of marks in dozens of countries. Generally, this transfer of rights must be documented – or recorded – with the trademark office in every jurisdiction where marks have been assigned. Otherwise, the outdated Trademark Office records relating to the ownership of a mark could cause issues, like blocking new applications filed in the new owner’s name. The requirements for assigning trademarks and recording this transfer of rights often vary by jurisdiction, so handling the transfer of a global trademark portfolio can become a major undertaking.
Our followers know that we get a little giddy at the prospect of registering trademarks. It’s almost as much fun as deep-fried Twinkies! (Um, make that “Twinkies® brand sponge cakes.”) So why are we posting about reasons NOT to register your mark? Well, although we love global brands, you may sometimes be better off skipping or delaying those new applications. Consider, for example, the following:
- How long will you continue to use the brand? If you will only use the mark for a short time, or in a limited geographical area, maybe it’s not worth spending the money on registration. You might even stop using the brand before the application matures to registration!
- Is your industry brand-focused? In some industries, brands can be (gasp!) a little less important. If your competitors don’t tend to copy your brand names, consider applying to register only your most important brand names.
- Might the Trademark Office consider the mark descriptive? If you’re at risk of a refusal to register the mark on descriptiveness grounds, you might refrain from applying, or wait until after you have used the mark for five years.
- Is there a crowded field of similar marks? If you’re not keen on trying to persuade the Trademark Office to withdraw a refusal to register your mark on the ground of confusion with five prior third-party registrations (ugh), maybe your resources would be better spent on something other than a new application…like finding a new brand?
- Is there a compelling reason to register the mark now? In some cases, if you’ve been using an unregistered brand for a while, maybe there’s no need to disrupt the status quo, particularly if the brand isn’t especially valuable or distinctive, you’re facing serious registrability hurdles, and there’s no infringement you need to stamp out. Why call attention to yourself and invite oppositions when no confusion has arisen in the real-world marketplace?
Of course, the above considerations may not apply in every case. If a brand’s importance is increasing, you’re entering new territories, or you have infringement concerns, it’s often a good idea to conduct searches and file applications. Just wanted to share some (fat-free) food for thought before you rush into filing globally!
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.”
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.
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.