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Late US National Stage Entry

US National Stage Entry

Mountain Biking in Park City, Utah

A late US national stage entry, from a PCT international application, is one way a US or international applicant can obtain patent protection in the US.

Patent applicants can seek patent rights outside their home country through a few mechanisms.  For utility applications, applicants file either direct foreign applications in individual foreign patent offices or initiate a centralized international process.  With direct filing, applicants use local counsel to file and examine the applications according to the local law.  With the international process, a centralized PCT application is filed, searched and examined under internationally-accepted rules, and is then sent to foreign offices where it can be processed according to the foreign country’s laws.

Deadlines govern the decisions and timing to file either directly or internationally.  A PCT application must usually be filed within 12 months of a priority date, usually the date a first application was filed on the subject matter.  There are methods for restoring a right of priority within a limited amount of time if that deadline is missed.  However, those methods are limited and not always available.

PCT Applications

Once filed, the PCT application processes through an “international phase” in which it searched by an international searching authority, and a written opinion is developed.  The written opinion determines whether the claims presented in the PCT application have met internationally-accepted standards for patentability.  A report on patentability is eventually developed which is based either on that written opinion or on subsequent examination following the presentation of amendments or arguments in response to the written opinion.

The “international phase” of the PCT application ends 30 months from the priority date, and the “national phase” (also called the “national stage”) begins with the filing of national applications.  This deadline is no less than 30 months, but in many countries it is 31 months, and some countries provide even more time under certain circumstances.  An applicant looking for patent protection in foreign countries must file a foreign application in those countries before the expiration of each country’s respective deadline.

Missed National Stage Entry Deadline

In many countries, missing the national stage entry deadline is the end of the road, and you can no longer pursue a patent application in that particular country.  In some countries, there may be exceptions.  Canada, for instance, is unique in that provides an additional 12-month extension period when the delay is unintentional.

Late US National Stage Entry

The United States is perhaps one of the most gracious countries when it comes to missed deadlines.

In the US, if the deadline on a regular patent application is missed (say, the applicant failed to respond to a rejection), then the application will become abandoned.  It can, however, potentially be revived.  If the abandonment was unintentional, and the delay in filing a petition to revive accompanied the missed response was also unintentional, then the application can generally be revived (with payment of a hefty governmental fee).  In some cases, there are additional requirements, and in other cases, the Patent Office may request more information about long delays, such as those over two years.  However, there are means for reviving abandoned applications.

A wrinkle of PCT law enables a PCT application to enter the national stage late.  Filing a PCT application will automatically constitute the designation of all PCT contracting states on that filing date.  In other words, the effect of the international application is as if a national patent application were filed in each contracting state.

So, when a PCT application is filed, the application is also considered to have been effectively in each PCT member country.  For the US, that means that a US application is considered to have been filed on the same day the PCT application was filed, even though a US application was not actually filed.

This means that the “US application” can go abandoned, which means it can be revived.  If an applicant who has filed a PCT application misses its 30-month deadline for entering the national stage in the US, that deadline closes, and the application is considered abandoned as to the US.  However, the US will allow it to be revived (again – revival is not always possible, it is subject to certain restrictions).

The US even has a form – PCT/SB/64PCT as of the time of this writing – that can be used in a petition to revive an international application.  It is named the Petition For Revival Of An International (PCT) Application For Patent Designating The U.S. Abandoned Unintentionally Under 37 CFR 1.137(a) and includes a checklist of some of the minimum documents that need to be filed along with a such a request.

Any applicant reviving a PCT application for national stage entry into the US would be well advised to contact and hire an experienced patent attorney.  A national stage entry on its own is a complicated process that requires a great deal of accompanying paperwork.  Certain translations, priority copies, international records, and other documents must be submitted for a national stage entry.  In addition, the Petition For Revival has another set of documents that must be furnished to support the request.  And the government fees, which vary depending on the size of the applicant, the type of filing, and the results of the international application, are high and non-refundable.



Trademark Applications Can Be Expedited or “Special”

Expedited Trademark Applications

Lemon Reservoir, Durango, CO

The US Patent and Trademark Office processes trademark applications in the order in which they are received. Before 2020, that led to wait time of about 3 months before an application would be substantively reviewed by a trademark Examiner. This year, examination has slowed a bit, and Examiners are taking about 4 months to initially review a trademark application.

This 3 to 4 month delay right from the outset can feel like an eternity (though it doesn’t even compare to the delays for patent applications, which can sit 1-2 years after filing before receiving examination). But you are usually stuck with it. There are only two procedures in which an application can be made “special,” so that initial examination will be expedited: requests to make special and petitions to make special.  Detailed information is below, and official USPTO information is available at TMEP 702.02.

Request to Make Special

A new application for registration of a mark that was the subject of a previous registration that was inadvertently cancelled or expired will be made “special” upon the request of the applicant. However, the applicant must be the prior registrant or the assignee of the prior registrant, the mark must be the same as the one in the cancelled or expired registration, and the goods/services in the new application must be identical to or narrower than the goods/services in the cancelled or expired registration. Because the request to make special is just a request and not a formal petition, there is no petition fee or other fee associated with the filing.

A request to make special must reference the trademark application serial number, so it can’t be filed contemporaneously with a new application. Instead, we file the application and then, after being award an application number, file the request. The electronic TEAS filing system has a form for these requests. This allows the designated office to receive and review the request, which improves processing time.

When completing the form, you must provide sworn statements regarding the new application and the old registration. For instance, you must provide: (1) the registration number for the prior registration; and (2) a specific statement explaining that: (a) the mark in the new application is identical to the mark in the cancelled or expired registration; (b) the goods/services in the new application are identical to, or narrower than, the goods/services in the cancelled or expired registration; and (c) the owner of the prior registration is the same as the owner of the new application.

Petition to Make Special

A Petition to Make Special can only be used when you need to expedite initial examination of an application because there is pending litigation, actual or threatened infringement, or the need for a registration as a basis for securing a foreign registration. There are special requirements, and these petitions require a great deal of care and attention when preparing. They also have a small filing fee associated with them ($100 at the time of this writing).



Four Seasons Total Landscaping Trademark

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

I don’t write about current political events, but I’ve been pressured into writing this post because of its significance with respect to trademark law. Trademarks are fundamentally about protecting the public. Yes, trademarks can become valuable assets for big business, but they gain that value through reputation, goodwill, and recognition in the marketplace. The more famous a mark, the more likely it is to be protected.

Proper use and enforcement of trademarks ensures consistency in consumer experiences and thus protects the public. McDonald’s provides an easy example of the essence of trademark law: when you go to a McDonald’s restaurant, you know exactly what you are going to get. You may not love McDonald’s, you may hate it, but you know just what it is they are offering inside. You may believe that McDonald’s has low-quality cheeseburgers, but you have that perception of all McDonald’s, so that you know if you visit Phoenix for the first time and visit a McDonald’s, you can get the same low-quality cheeseburger that you always get back in your hometown of Duluth. Or, if you think the milkshakes you drink at your local McDonald’s has just the right amount of sweetness and is the perfect texture and consistency, then when you walk through a McDonald’s in Denver you are expecting that same thing. In other words, trademarks don’t protect quality levels; they don’t indicate that a product is high-quality (or that it is low-quality), they simply protect the expectation in or consistency of quality. You can get the same experience at this brand store that you do in this other similarly-branded store, whether that is good or bad.

Most people would agree that Four Seasons is a trademark with a fairly high reputation of quality. Anyone going to a Four Seasons-branded hotel will expect quality consistent with that reputation. And, most would agree that Four Seasons is a fairly famous mark. The owners of hotel chain spend a great deal of time and money advertising their brand, and most people in the country are aware of and recognize the trademark.

Famous marks are accorded broad protection. Marks like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Facebook, Nintendo, Adidas, Mercedes Benz – these are examples of famous marks. If you saw a Mercedes Benz-branded bicycle, you would probably think that the bike is made by the car company, or somehow affiliated with the car company, and you may also believe that the bike is of a fairly high-quality consistent with their automobiles. Fame is the ability of a mark to create an association between the product (bike) and the source of that product (Mercedes) even when the product is different from the source’s core products (automobiles). The more famous the brand, the wider that each of product. It is hard to imagine any product being marked with COCA COLA without someone thinking that it comes from the soda company in Atlanta. Coca-Cola dinnerware? Could happen. Coca-Cola bicycle? Sure. Coca-Cola spark plugs? Maybe?

Four Seasons is not so famous as Coke, but it is still pretty well known. And that is where our president became confused. His campaign, seeing the name “Four Seasons” in Philadelphia, immediately made the association between the brand and the luxury hotel chain and did no further checking. Of course, we know how that turned out.

Now, was this an example of trademark infringement? Has Four Seasons Total Landscaping stepped on the hotel chain’s rights when it picked its name?

Almost certainly not. While famous trademarks do have broad protection, there are limits. Landscaping services are very different from the hotel and spa services protected under the mark. Because the two sets of services are so different, in fact, they are able to coexist without the potential for consumer confusion. Which makes the President’s mistake all the more amusing – it was the exception proving that, for most people, similar trademarks for very different services shouldn’t be confusing.

P.S. – the comedy of errors continues, because on November 12, an individual in Hawaii filed for FOUR SEASONS TOTAL LANDSCAPING in connection with “entertainment services in the nature of a television series featuring comedy; entertainment services, namely, a website featuring information regarding a comedy television series; providing online, non-downloadable television programs and entertainment programming related to a comedy television series; and providing podcasts in the field of comedy television programming.”



Knockout Searches for Trademarks

A knockout search is a search run before filing a trademark application to assess,

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

primarily, the viability of obtaining a registration on that trademark. Whether you can use the mark is actually a slightly different question from whether you can register it, but a knockout search will reveal some information about the use possibilities. A knockout search is usually a recommended step before filing a trademark application.

There is no requirement that any sort of search be completed prior to a trademark application filing. Many clients forego them. However, the Trademark Office will always run a search – and so clients who skip this first step run the risk that their applications will be rejected by a similar mark that the Office pulls up in its search.

The knockout search reduces this risk. Knockout searches are usually a few hundred dollars or less, compared to the thousand-plus dollar cost of a trademark application. This is money well spent when the search reveals a conflicting mark has already been registered. It gives you the ability to decide whether to proceed forward with knowledge of that risk or to change your mark to avoid it.

When we conduct a knock-out search, we perform it on the federal database, including both the Principal and Supplemental Registers at the Trademark Office. This therefore covers every single mark that could ever be cited against your mark once you submit an application. We used to develop and run each search manually, querying the federal database directly. Now, we also run our searches through a piece of proprietary software which performs an AI-based search of the federal database. With this two-pronged approach, we have found we can provide more accurate results and better predictability to our clients. To that point, in the almost three years since we adopted the two-pronged approach, and for those applications that we ran pre-filing searches, only one was rejected in light of a mark that the Trademark Office found in its search.

Any knockout search should not only deliver a set of raw results – the potentially-conflicting trademark registrations – but should also be a report containing analysis. You hire an attorney not to run a search but for his or legal advice. Trademarks receive rejections if they are too similar to another mark; this question of “similarity” is based not just on the marks themselves, but a number of other factors that a trademark attorney should be experienced in recognizing and evaluating. Therefore, any knockout search should review those factors. In our searches, we provide the most relevant results as well as a determination of registrability, identifying the level of risk of a rejection based on those results.

Some firms only search word elements – trademarks that contain nothing but words. Searching marks that contain design elements, or that are solely composed of design elements without any words, is more difficult. However, there are advanced searching features on TESS (the Trademark Office’s search interface) which allow you to search by design element or design code. We exploit those advanced features, and our software also allows us to search design marks.

Trademark knockout searches are not comprehensive searches. A comprehensive search usually looks for similar marks at the Trademark Office, just as the knockout search does, but then goes further by looking through business name registrations, phone number databases, internet domain names, common law usage. Clients run comprehensive trademark searches if they are concerned with the potential for infringement, if they need to review foreign trademark databases, or if they believe they will expand their business quickly into many locations across the nation.

Knockout searches are also different from direct searches. A direct search covers essentially only the mark itself. This is often the sort of search that a client runs on its own; if so, clients can sometimes mistakenly believe that their marks can be registered because the direct search didn’t return any results. However, ignorance is not bliss – the direct search does not replicate the search the Trademark Office runs, and so it is not an accurate predictor of the likelihood a mark will register. Only a knockout search will do this.



Correction of Inventorship in Patents

A patent must identify the correct inventors.  A patent which names the wrong inventors can be invalidated.

Early Morning, Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Early Morning, Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Sometimes, friends and spouses want to identify each other to be nice, but a person is only an inventor if they have contributed to material claimed in the patent.  Occasionally, mistakes are made in the identification of the inventorship and they have to be corrected.

Inventorship can be corrected if the mistake occurred in the original oath or declarations, or if the inventorship was not updated as the examination was processed and the claimed subject matter changed.

Although there is no requirement that an inventorship  mistake be corrected diligently after it is discovered, there are timing requirements.  This means that corrections that are made after a notice of allowance has been mailed will not necessarily be approved; though rarely will an Examiner deny the correction.

The main requirement in fixing this mistake is ensuring that it did not happen on purpose, that there was no “deceptive intent.”  The patent rules state that if the inventorship is mistakenly submitted an executed oath or declaration in a nonprovisional application, and the mistake arose without any deceptive intent on the part of the person named as an inventor in error or on the part of the person who through error was not named as an inventor, then the inventorship may be corrected to name only the actual inventor or inventors.

Correction may be requested in cases where the person originally named as inventor was in fact not an inventor or was not the sole inventor.  If such an error occurred without any deceptive intent on the part of the erroneous inventor, then the Patent Office can substitute the correct inventorship for the erroneous inventorship.  Instances where corrections can be made include changes from: a mistaken sole inventor to a different but actual sole inventor; a mistakenly identified sole inventor to different, but actual, joint inventors; a sole inventor to joint inventors to include the original sole inventor; erroneously identified joint inventors to different but actual joint inventors; and erroneously identified joint inventors to a different, but actual, sole inventor.

Amendment of the inventorship requires:

  • A request to correct the inventorship, explaining the requested change;
  • A statement from each person being added (if applicable) as an inventor that the error in inventorship occurred without deceptive intention on his or her part;
  • A statement from each person being deleted (if applicable) as an inventor that there was no deceptive intent error in inventorship occurred without deceptive intention on his or her part;
  • An oath or declaration by the actual inventor or inventors
  • The processing fee ($35 for small entities as of the time of this writing) and potentially an additional processing fee depending on the timing of the request
  • If the patent application has been assigned, then written consent of the assignee
  • A corrected Application Data Sheet that updates the inventorship with markings


Sonos Sues Google For Patent Infringement

Patent InfringementSonos pioneered wireless multi-room audio in the early 2000s and first brought consumer products to the market in 2005.  Now it has taken on a juggernaut in smart home technology.  The battle highlights the need for – and difficulty of – foresight when drafting agreements governing intellectual property joint ventures.

Sonos sued Google for infringement of its patents covering smart speakers.  Sonos and Google had entered into a joint R&D venture to integrate Google Play Music into Sonos speakers, during which time Sonos shared a great deal of technological information with Google.  These ventures are common.  Sometimes, they end poorly, in litigation.  Sometimes, as happened here, the joint venture goes well but, a few years later, one of the parties comes out with products that are eerily similar to the other party’s.

Sonos and Google will have to fight it out in court or, more likely, come to a settlement regarding future use of the IP.  Sonos has additionally filed a complaint in the International Trade Commission, seeking to prevent Google from importing some speakers into the country, on the grounds that the speakers violate Sonos’s patents.  Patentees frequently take this double-pronged approach of filing an infringement suit in district court and a complaint with the ITC complaint.

Sonos has not flied suit against other manufacturers, such as Amazon, even though it is a potential target with its Echo products.  This may be because Amazon is a valuable retailer for Sonos’s speakers, and it doesn’t want to poke that bear.

This is not the first time that Google has been embroiled in such an action.  Over the past few years, Google’s affiliated company Waymo has been fighting Uber over technology they say one of Uber’s top autonomous car engineers – and former head of self-driving cars at Waymo – took from Google.

Cases such as these highlight a number of issues: how to properly handle background IP in a joint venture contract; how to deal with IP developed within a joint venture; whether and to what extent knowhow can be handled; how business relationships may affect a company’s choices in pursuing a potential infringement claim.  These are all difficult issues to negotiate, and difficult issues to predict.  However, when writing a joint venture agreement, license agreement, or other agreement concerning patents, trade secrets, and knowhow, both sides must attempt to look into the future and consider both the positive and negative possible outcomes.



Trademarks on Software During Beta Testing

A trademark application filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office must meet certain requirements to be eligible for registration.  At some point, almost all trademarks must be deemed “in use” before the Trademark Office will register them.  “In use” is short for “in use in commerce,” which itself is short for “in use in commerce that can be regulated by Congress,” i.e. interstate commerce or activities that impact or affect interstate commerce. 

Often, determining whether a trademark is in use is not a difficult act.  A restaurant has been operating for years with customers from all over the state?  In use.  Products are branded and sold to customers across the country?  In use.  A blog gets traffic everyday from all over the world?  In use. 

But the law is defined by its contours, its grey areas, and beta testing of software is one of them.  Beta testing, most frequently associated with software, is the practice of releasing a product to a group of customers who not only use it, but test it.  They may provide direct or indirect feedback about its operation.  It is a near-real-world test, allowing the owner to find and fix issues before a widespread release or launch. 

Because beta testing is often experimental, limited to a small number of customers, and done without a fee exchange, questions arise as to whether a trademark used in beta testing is “used in commerce.”  There are no clear answers here.  Courts have found beta testing to be either sufficient or insufficient to establish trademark use, each case having its own set of facts that leaned one way or the other. 

There are some factors that be evaluated to attempt to determine whether a trademark is in use during beta test.  More testers are more likely to be considered “in use.”  Testers outside the state that the company is in will weigh toward a finding of use in commerce.  Arms-length testers – not friends and family – will help lean toward use.  If the beta testing is consistent with other forms of beta testing in the ordinary course of trade within the relevant industry, use is more likely to be found.  The beta testing should not be simply marketing, but rather be part of an ongoing and eventually successful march toward launch.  The more widely available the beta testing is to the public, the better.  The consistency and normalcy with which the beta tested product is marked can affect the “in use” determination.  These factors are not determinative or exhaustive – others may exist and may be more influential, so it always a good idea to contact a trademark attorney to discuss whether your particular use of a trademark is sufficient. 

Lastly, to emphasize that this not a clear test, here is an excerpt from some of the Trademark Office rules:  “Specimens for software may also indicate that the software is a ‘beta’ version. This term is commonly used in the software field to identify a preliminary version of a product. Although some beta products may not be made available to consumers, others are. Thus, the appearance of this term on a specimen for software does not, by itself, necessarily mean that the relevant goods are not in actual use in commerce or that the specimen is unacceptable. However, if examination of the specimen indicates that the beta version is not in actual use in commerce, the examining attorney must refuse registration … because the applicant has not provided evidence of use of the applied-for mark in commerce. ”  TMEP 904.03(e). 

We frequently handle software-based patent and trademark applications.  If you have questions or are in need of an attorney with experience in software, please don’t hesitate to contact Tom or call +1-602-281-6481.



Are Federal Judges Disqualified From Hearing Cases Involving Trump Interests?

In 2016, Prospector Capital Partners sought to cancel a number of Donald Trump’s trademark  registrations (one of the design marks is shown to the right) for TRUMP in connection with golf courses, online retail store services featuring golf accessories, PACs, limo services, gambling services, lotion dispensers, jewelry, dress shirts, and various other goods and services. Prospector asserted that Trump had abandoned the trademark by failing to use them. Prospector did not quite set its claim correctly, however, and Trump was able to dismiss the cancellation on a technicality. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board hearing the case granted Prospector a 20-day period to fix its error, however.

Rather than filing an amended petition to cancel, Prospector filed a motion to disqualify the entire Board on the basis that President Trump holds an interest in the trademark registrations and the judges are all appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, who serves under the President. Prospector suggested that, since Trump essentially has the ability to fire all of the judges, they could not be impartial.

The Board flatly rejected this suggestion.

First, it noted that the laws governing disqualifications of judges only apply to judges on courts. The TTAB judges are administrative judges on an administrative panel, wholly within the US Patent and Trademark Office. They are not judges on a court, and the laws pertaining to such judges therefore do not apply to them.

Second, it stated that government procedures are at least presumed to operate regularly and without improper motive.

Third, the Board countered that there were no facts indicating that the Board might be swayed by Trump’s ability to fire.

Fourth, the Board found that there was no statutory limitation in proceedings that it was incompetent to handle. Thus, the Board has the authority to determine rights of registration regardless of the owner of the registration. If such limitations were in place, the Board offered, whole classes of applicants, such as both high-level and low-level government executives, might find themselves without a forum to adjudicate their rights, which is “absurd.”

Finally, the Board highlighted the option Prospector has already: it can always appeal the Board’s decision in federal court. We’ll see if that happens….



Green Business Certification

This week the law firm was recognized as a Green Business by the City of Phoenix. We are the second law firm in Phoenix to be recognized for its efforts in diverting material away from area landfills. We emphasize all three important elements of reduce, reuse, and recycle to conserve resources here at the office.  We’re thrilled with the recognition, but more concerned that other businesses may be missing the opportunity to reduce their footprints.

If you’d like more information about our efforts or the efforts of the City of Phoenix, please give us a call and we’d be happy to talk with you about how you can help.



WTC Sues Ironman For Kids for Trademark Infringement

The Tampa-based Word Triathlon Corporation, owner and licensor of the IRONMAN, M DOT, and various Ironman-related trademarks, has sued a San Antonio, Texas company for using the domain name “ironmanforkids.com.”

Beyond the famous IRONMAN trademark, WTC owns the trademark for IRONKIDS and many other IRON-formative marks. My own daughter has done a couple of these IronKids fun-runs before my races. WTC alleged trademark infringement and tarnishment of its reputation. Ironman For Kids apparently seeks donations to help children. WTC likely isn’t complaining of the fact of the charity, but rather that charities outside of its selection were identified as beneficiaries; the World Triathlon Corporation often selects designated charities for certain races, so that one or a few specific charities receive a benefit from one community by design.

WTC had sent a cease-and-desist letter before filing suit, but the recipient refused to budge and instead offered to sell the domain to WTC. Such actions can often prove to be incredibly damaging, as may be considered evidence of a bad faith registration, done merely to extract a premium from a trademark owner.

Often, a UDRP proceeding is a common mechanism for taking down or transferring a domain name. I ran a search through WIPO and FORUM – the two arbitration bodies for UDRP disputes – and found no history of any cases. Thus, it appears that WTC did not seek to have the domain name taken down and transferred, but instead opted to file suit directly.