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Category: Trademark

Request to Divide a Trademark Application

Occasionally, there will be a need in a trademark application to divide a portion of it out of the application. Dividing an application removes, but does not delete, the identified portion and creates a new application on that portion. This will be done for a number of reasons, such as:

  • The application has been rejected on some of the goods or services but not all of them
  • The mark is being used on some goods or services but not all
  • A suspension has been issued, but only against some of the goods or services

Dividing the goods or services will allow the original application to proceed for further examination. The divided goods or services are made subject to a new application where their particular issues can be addressed separately, without affecting the original application.

There is a cost for dividing an application. In the case of a request to divide out one or more entire classes of goods or services, only a dividing fee is necessary ($100 at the time of this writing). However, in the case of a request to divide out some, but not all, of the goods or services in a class, the dividing fee is required in addition to a new application filing fee (probably $225 or $275 per new class). In other words, it is cheaper to divide an entire class of goods or services than just a portion of that class. In some cases, a trademark applicant may have the luxury of choosing between these, while in other cases, the decision may be forced by the circumstances.



Changing a Trademark From One Word to Two, or Two Words to One

Trademark applications frequently are filed and then need to be amended slightly. Sometimes these amendments are to change the identification of goods or services for the application, or to change the way the mark is described. Changes such as these are usually straightforward.

Sometimes, though, the trademark itself needs to be amended. This always needs to be done with extreme care and planning. This need usually arises in the context of an intent-to-use application, where an entity files a trademark application on a mark it is planning to use. Sometimes, the company or person is planning on using one form of a mark but then when the product actually goes to market, the form changes. Many times, I’ve seen a mark get filed as one word or as two words and then need to be switched to two words or one word, respectively. In other words, an application may be filed in the form ONE TWO and then need to be changed to ONETWO, or be changed from ONETWO to ONE TWO.

Changes like this are often driven by the way the mark is eventually actually used in commerce. Of course, preferably these changes can be anticipated and dealt with early; the timing of the change within the course of prosecution of the application can affect the ability and ease of making the change. Since the mark is usually already being used, changing the actual trademark is usually not an option. In other words, re-branding to keep the trademark consistent with the application is usually not an option – the costs of new designs, new printing, new labels, new stickers, new stitching, etc. are prohibitive. So usually the trademark application must be amended.

I do not recommend making changes to the mark in the application without the assistance of a trademark attorney. Per the trademark examination rules, a proposed amendment cannot materially alter the mark. If an Examiner finds that a proposed amendment materially alters the mark, the Examiner will refuse to enter the amendment, and then the application’s mark and the actual trademark will forever be inconsistent, leading ultimately to trademark application being abandoned. In some cases, depending on the timing of the amendment, the Examiner may not even be able to enter it, even if he or she would otherwise approve it. In other cases, it is better to file a response or a statement of use that shows the mark inconsistently, wait for the Examiner to raise the issue, and then respond.

Though changing the mark may seem like a very simple thing to do, it can have disastrous consequences, including abandonment of the application, and so careful planning and good counseling is absolutely necessary.



Filing an Amendment to a Trademark Application After Issuance of a Notice of Allowance but Before Submission of a Statement of Use

Trademark applications which are filed on an intent-to-use basis always present slight risks since the application is filed before the owner has begun using the trademark and before the owner knows 100% how the trademark will be used. There is always the possibility that the trademark will be changed somehow when the mark is actually used.

Generally, once a trademark application is filed, only limited changes can be made to the application, such as removing goods or services, amending the mark description, very minor changes to the mark itself, changing the attorney, some changes to the owner identification. These changes become more difficult to make the longer the application processes. Usually, the changes are most easily made before examination occurs (typically in the first 3-4 months). Once examination has begun, Examiners will often be more reluctant to approve changes. Of course, some changes may be necessitated by issues raised in an Office Action from the Examiner. After examination, most marks are scheduled for publication. Any changes should really tried to be made before publication, because once the trademark application is published, the application can only be changed on very limited grounds. Some changes cannot be made at all. Some changes require a petition to the Director.

Once publication ends, and a Notice of Allowance has issued in an intent-to-use trademark application, changes become even more limited. Generally, the only amendments that may be entered in an application between the issuance of the notice of allowance and the submission of a statement of use are: (1) the deletion of specified goods or services, or the entire description of the nature of the collective membership organization, from the identification; (2) the deletion of a basis in a multiple-basis application; and (3) changes of attorney and changes of address. The Trademark Office will enter other amendments during this period, but only with the express permission of the Director. This requires filing a petition laying out facts and reasons for the change, as well as payment of the petition fee. If the Director determines that the amendment requires review by the examining attorney, the petition will be denied and the amendment may be resubmitted with the statement of use in order for the applicant to preserve its right to review.



Can I sign up for Amazon Brand Registry 2.0 if my trademark has not yet registered?

Unfortunately, no. Amazon Brand Registry 2.0 only accepts registered trademarks.

There are two types of trademarks: common law trademarks and registered trademarks. These two categories are not at all mutually exclusive; a common law trademark can become a registered trademark, and virtually all registered trademarks have a common law basis. Only registered trademarks can be relied on for Amazon Brand Registry 2.0.

Common law trademarks are trademarks which are used but not registered. Owners of common law trademarks develop rights in such marks geographically, as the mark is used with products or services that are offered and sold geographically. For example, if you sell bath products in Arizona, you develop common law trademark rights in the name of the bath products in Arizona. As you sell the bath products into other states – Nevada, California, New Mexico, you will begin to acquire trademark rights in those states as well. But if you haven’t sold into Kansas, or Texas, or Ohio, for example, you don’t have rights in those states.

Internet sales complicate this a bit. If you sell on Amazon, for instance, you have offerings that are available across the entire United States. Your common law rights will depend on each state’s laws governing common law rights arising from Internet use, but often this test is a multi-factorial one weighing on the number of sales into the state or other targeting or advertising activities associated with the state.

Contrasted from common law trademarks, registered trademark are those that have been vetted and approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. These are trademarks that have been filed, examined, approved, and registered through the USPTO, in a process that takes at least 6-7 months. Your ability to federally register a trademark requires that you use the mark in interstate commerce (which has its own particular definitions and requirements), and also that there not be any confusingly similar trademarks already registered or pending before the USPTO. And, of course, you must prepare and file the trademark application correctly.

At the time of this writing, Amazon Brand Registry 2.0 is only available to trademarks which have gone through the entire registration process at the USPTO, not common law trademarks. An application that has been filed and is still pending cannot support sign up to Amazon Brand Registry 2.0. Rather, Amazon requires that the mark have fully processed through the USPTO and issued as a registration. Because trademark applications take at least 6-7 months to process, and any hiccups can slow that process, it is recommended that those wishing to register with Amazon consult a trademark attorney to mitigate the risk of delays.



Is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Affected by the 2018 Government Shutdown?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not affected by the shutdown which has closed many government offices and agencies after Congress failed to pass a funding resolution.  Navigate to www.uspto.gov and you’ll be greeted by the banner announcing the Office is still open.

While other agencies are dependent upon immediate funding for their continuance, the USPTO maintains a reserve account of funds. The funds allow the Office to continue operating at nearly full capacity for at least a few weeks. These are collected, in part, from the applicants that have filed and prosecuted patent and trademark applications in the United States in previous years.

In December 2017, the Commerce Department issued a shutdown plan which noted: “The USPTO anticipates that it will have sufficient funds from other than current year appropriations to continue full operations for a brief period after a general lapse in appropriations commences. Therefore, all employees of the USPTO will be excepted for such period following a lapse in appropriations.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross emailed USPTO employees on Friday, January 19, 2018 directing them to continue reporting for work until they were notified otherwise.

Collections from previous years enable the USPTO to operate despite furloughs at other federal agencies. The USPTO is well-funded; in fact, it generates far more money in fees than it consumes in expenses. However, fee diversion moves much of its revenue to other governmental agencies. The 2011 America Invents Act allows the Office to trap some of those fees into the reserve account before they can be diverted outside the agency.

Should the shutdown continue and the reserve funds be consumed, employees would begin to be furloughed. A small staff would nevertheless remain to accept new applications and to maintain the IT infrastructure. The electronic filing systems through which most patent attorneys and agents correspond with the USPTO would continue to operate, allowing filing dates to be established and deadlines to be met. The shutdown does close down the File Repository Warehouse, where the paper files for older patent applications are maintained. That warehouse is not operated by the USPTO and so is affected by the shutdown. As such, requests for copies of paper files (which normally take 1-4 weeks for production) will likely be delayed. This would not affect electronic files, of course.

In 2013, the government shut down lasted for two and a half weeks. The USPTO stayed open then, too, using the same reserve fund.



Registered Trademarks for the Amazon Brand Registry

Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out its Amazon Brand Registry, which is an effort to work with registered trademark owners to protect the customer experience on Amazon’s site. Since that time, as the official correspondence address on my clients’ trademark registration, I have received many requests from Amazon asking to validate and verify trademark owners for the registry. Enrollment in the Amazon Brand Registry provides trademark owners with improved tools for fighting trademark infringement.

It is well known that having a listing removed or a seller flagged for trademark infringement has often been a difficult endeavor on Amazon. Common types of trademark infringement or misuse I’ve seen there include:

  • Someone sells their own product using your name, logo, or trademark
  • Someone sells their own product using a name, logo, or trademark that is similar, but not identical, to yours
  • Someone hijacks your listing but ships a different product
  • Someone improperly lodges an infringement claim against a trademark you own

Handling things like the above generally required contacting Amazon’s automated service, eventually getting through to a person, and having the listing or complaint analyzed and then potentially taken down. This process was slow and cumbersome, especially if there was infringement by multiple users. And trademark owners could find themselves in a game of whack-a-mole with listings subsequently popping up under different seller’s accounts. The Amazon Brand Registry is intended to ease and speed the process of finding and handling potentially trademark infringement on Amazon.com.

Now, users who are enrolled with the Amazon Brand Registry will be able to create and upload unique videos and photos that are keyed to their accounts. Misuse of that content by others is easier to find and stop. Enrollment also gives you a faster takedown process, letting you clear infringement more quickly than with the old system. Enrolled sellers have access to text searches, image searches, and automated responses to potential intellectual property infringement. Sellers who are enrolled will also appear more legitimate to prospective customers, who may opt to purchase from that seller rather than one with a cheaper price but a more questionable status.

Some points and prerequisites concerning the Amazon Brand Registry:

  • Only owners of federally registered trademarks are eligible to participate in the Amazon Brand Registry. Common law trademarks and pending federal applications do not provide an enrollment basis.
  • Word marks are definitely eligible – these are sometimes known as “standard character marks” because they usually appear simply as capital letters without claim to style or font.
  • Composite marks appear to be eligible. Amazon says that “words, letters, or numbers in a stylized form” and “illustration drawing[s] which include[] words, letters, and/or numbers” are eligible. This seems to imply that a mark or logo having both text and graphical elements will qualify.
  • It appears that pure design marks – graphical elements which have no text, words, or letters – may not qualify.
  • You will need to provide proof of your registered trademark, as well as proof of how the mark is actually being used on the product or packaging for the product.
  • I’ve seen discussion that your trademark has to be registered on the Principal Register, not the Supplemental Register. I have not been able to verify this with Amazon, however.

If you are a trademark owner, consider the following for moving forward:

  • Registering your trademark. Registration is a fundamental requirement for enrollment now, so this action must be taken.
  • Filing the application for trademark registration now. This process typically takes at least 6-7 months, and Amazon’s requirement that your mark be registered means you should start the registration process sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to file, the longer it will take before you can enroll.
  • Registering a word mark version of your mark, if you only have a design or composite mark registered. The word mark will not only be definitely eligible for enrollment in the Amazon Brand Registry, but it typically offers the best and broadest protection for you trademark in the larger marketplace.
  • Does the way you use your trademark on listings, products, and packaging match the registered trademark? Different spelling, spacing, hyphenation, or other variations can limit your ability to use, or potentially even enroll, in the Amazon Brand Registry.
  • Failure to enroll in the Amazon Brand Registry does not mean you cannot report alleged trademark infringement on Amazon, it just means you won’t have all of Amazon’s potential tools available to you for finding and combating that infringement. Typically, clients find it difficult and cumbersome to monitor and remove trademark infringement.
  • If your trademark is on the Supplemental Register, consider moving it to the Principal Register. Not all marks are eligible for this and so attempting the move requires careful analysis together with a use and filing strategy.
  • If you were enrolled in the Amazon Brand Registry before April 2017, you will not be automatically re-enrolled. You have to manually re-enroll.

More info is available at https://services.amazon.com/brand-registry.html



Food Truck Trademarks

No longer a trend, food trucks are here to stay as restaurant alternatives. Outside of my stomach, I have an academic interest in food trucks: they are great at branding (or they’re not great, and then they disappear) and present all sorts of trademarks issues. Food truck trademarks are great examples of unique branding that you don’t see in other industries so nearly ubiquitously.

At a festival, a concert, or any event that brings in a dozen or so food trucks, customers walk the rounds and often remember the truck with the best – or most outlandish – branding. Branding incorporates a number of things: paint schemes on the truck, structural elements or decorations, and of course, the name of the truck.

I often discover what type of food the truck actually serves long after I’ve been hit with its branding. Until I’m about 6 feet away, I can only see the truck, not the menu, which might be on a chalkboard, a sandwich board, or even just a piece of printed paper. This experience demonstrates to me that the image the truck presents is much more important in initially attracting the customer than the food itself.

You’ll see a whole variety of branding on food trucks. Some are vintage or retro – airstreams, simply-designed milk trucks. Some are insanely elaborate – decorated like real hamburgers or sushi rolls. Some have bright paint jobs, and some opt for flat matte schemes.

You’ll also see a wide range in names, from things like “That Food Truck” to “The Moose is Loose.” Perhaps it is obvious, but food truck names are incredibly important to their vitality because of the way they often advertise their location. On social media, it can be difficult to discern food trucks, and if a The Fry Guy truck says it will downtown at 3:00, but The Fry’s Guys truck says it will be midtown at lunch, you’re going to have some customers going to the wrong truck. If you’re the truck on the wrong side of this confusion, you’ll see some lost sales, maybe even no customers at all.

Food truck owners need to think about many things when launching, operating, and selling their food truck business, like:

1) Develop and protect a great name, logo, and/or slogan
Because the name is so crucial to a social media presence and the ability to advertise, food trucks have to give a great deal of thought about their names. This doesn’t just mean coming up with something catchy, it has to be protectable. If you can’t protect it, the name will become a liability. I’ve seen companies go out of business because they didn’t pick good names, and someone else with a similar job stole their customers. If a food truck starts with a bad name, it will battle uphill from the get-go to keep other trucks out of its space.

A food truck name should be clever, and it should not be descriptive of the food or the service provided. “The Food Truck” is not a good name for your business – it immediately describes the service, and protectable rights will almost certainly never vest with this business. That can represents a huge loss of value in a future sale of the business.

A food truck trademark should also be cleared by a professional trademark attorney. An attorney can give you an idea whether the name is appropriately distinct, but also whether there are similar names already registered. If there are, those other names may prevent you from protecting or even using your name.

The above goes for logos and slogans – if you’ve got a clever and distinct design or catchphrase, run it by a local trademark attorney to make cure it looks clean.

2) Develop and protect trade dress
You can protect the way your truck looks – the shape, the design, the paint scheme. If you’re planning to have several food trucks, or to franchise across states, trade dress protection could be a valuable way to prevent others from running a truck that looks like yours.

3) Use your branding correctly
This one is fairy easy for most food trucks. Placing the name on the outside of the truck, on menus, on your social media, all to advertise your food or your food truck services, is appropriate. Use your trademarks as an adjectives, not as nouns – call it “The Giant Donut foo  d truck,” not “The Giant Donut.”

4) Patrol your rights
Watch out for others using names similar to yours. Practically, you should be especially aggressive on social media. You don’t want anyone to start using a name similar to yours that might siphon customers, or might reduce your ability to signal to your loyal base where you’re stopping tomorrow afternoon. Beyond this, you need to make sure other businesses, restaurants, bars, aren’t using names like yours, and aren’t registering trademarks like yours. Cease and desist letters can be helpful ways to let other companies know they should pick a new name or change their existing name.

If you have other questions about food truck trademarks, contact a local trademark attorney, or Tom Galvani here.



What is a Trademark Statement of Use?

Earlier this month I wrote about Notices of Allowances in trademark applications. A Notice of Allowance is the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s manner of moving the substantive portion of examination toward registration; the Office notifies the applicant that application seems ready for registration and then invites the applicant to submit proof that the mark is being used in commerce. The Statement of Use is the applicant’s official response to the Notice of Allowance.

No trademark application, but for some with foreign priority claims, registers without proof of use of the mark. The Statement of Use submits proof of use. It includes a number of things. First, the Statement of Use declares that the trademark is in use in commerce with the goods and services identified in the trademark application. Second, it declares a date that the mark was first used in commerce. Third, it declares a date that the mark may have been used, regardless of whether such use was in commerce or not. Fourth, the Statement of Use provides a specimen, or an example of how the mark is being used. Multiple specimens are sometimes submitted. If the application contains multiple classes – different categories of goods and services – a specimen for each class is required. Sometimes, applicant will also file multiple specimens within a class as well.

A Statement of Use is a filing that swears that the mark is being used on all the goods identified in the application. If some of the goods or services aren’t being offered, an applicant should remove those goods not offered, lest the application and resulting registration be at risk of later cancellation, generally.

A Statement of Use must be submitted within six months of the Notice of Allowance mail date. If it is filed late, it will not be accepted unless accompanied by a Petition to Revive. However, the six-month deadline can be extended. A Request for Extension of Time to File a Statement of Use asks for an additional 6 months to submit the Statement of Use. Further Requests can be filed, but no more than five extension can be obtained in a single application. Failure to file the Statement of Use after the fifth extension results in the abandonment of the application.

The Statement of Use is thus the official mechanism for responding to a Notice of Allowance and presenting the necessary proof of use to finalize the trademark application.



What is a Trademark Notice of Allowance?

Filing a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark

Sample Notice of Allowance

Office initiates a lengthy process for the search, examination, and potential registration of a trademark. The Trademark Office reviews applications for technical and substantive requirements before allowing a mark to register. However, no application – with the exception of those based on foreign trademark registrations – is allowed to register without proof that the mark has actually been used in the marketplace. A Notice of Allowance is one part of the trademark application process.

Some trademark applications are filed on an in-use basis. This means that the mark is in use at the time the application is filed; the owners are actively selling their products under a brand, the company is promoting its services under a logo, or some other public, commercial use is being made of the applied-for trademark.

Other trademarks are filed on an intent-to-use basis. This means that the applicant, at the time of filing, is not using the trademark, but does have an intent to do so in the near future. At some point in the application process, the applicant must offer up proof that it has begun to use the mark in commerce.

In an intent-to-use trademark application, proof of use can be submitted early in the process. This is done by filing an Amendment to Allege Use. The Amendment to Allege Use provides the Trademark Office with an example of how the trademark is being used commercially, when the trademark was first used commercially, and then requests that the application be processed as an in-use application moving forward. An Amendment to Allege Use is not a required filing, and we file very few of them. There can be strategic reasons to file or not file an Amendment to Allege Use, but often times an Amendment to Allege Use is not filed simply because the applicant has not put the trademark to use in time.

If no Amendment to Allege Use is filed, then the Trademark Office reviews and processes the trademark application normally. If all goes well, after a publication period, the Trademark Office will issue a Notice of Allowance to the applicant. The Notice of Allowance invites the applicant to submit a Statement of Use. A Statement of Use if very similar to an Amendment to Allege Use, but is submitted after the publication period. The Notice of Allowance places a deadline on filing a Statement of Use of 6 months. If not Statement of Use is filed, the application is abandoned unless the applicant files a request to extend the time to file an SOU.

The Notice of Allowance is thus the Trademark Office’s way of formally inviting the applicant to submit proof of commercial use of the mark, and restricting the amount of time in which to do so. This moves the trademark application forward to registration or lets it abandon.



Trademark Knockout Searches

Before a trademark application is filed, it is often advisable to perform a trademark search. A search can be used to evaluate the risks associated with using a mark and is also helpful for determining the likelihood of federally registering the mark.

There are two types of trademark searches that can usually be run: a comprehensive search and a knockout search. A comprehensive search usually looks for identical and similar marks at the Trademark Office and in common law usage, which includes any instances of the mark being used outside of the Trademark Office, such as business trade names, internet usage, phone numbers, and other local usage. Comprehensive searches require a significant amount of investigation, analysis, and time.

A knockout search is a much more cursory search. The purpose of the knockout search is limited to reviewing filings at the Trademark Office for anything that may pose an immediate danger. Identical marks and very, very similar marks – in terms of sight and sound, generally – may be found in a knockout search, while confusingly similar marks may be missed. Knockout searches are merely quick reviews to eliminate the potential mark if an obvious problem exists.

Some law firms bill for knockout searches. This firm doesn’t charge. However, even though a knockout search can be done quickly and cheaply, its purpose shouldn’t be confused; it is intended to find only the most obvious of issues for a mark as means of eliminating a vulnerable mark. If you’re planning on expanding geographically, using the mark broadly, or establishing a legitimate brand force, you should strongly consider a comprehensive search. Speak with a local trademark attorney for more advice on your particular situation.