You’ve done the work of securing a federal trademark registration and now face the matter of enforcement against a potential infringer. Are the classes and goods specified in that registration now a double-edged sword?
Say your business, Company A, sells a premium line of clothing for chefs, widely recognized in the restaurant industry for both its durability and stylish design. You’ve worked hard to build the brand and made sure to protect its reputation by registering Company A’s trademarks with the USPTO—in particular, Class 25 for clothing. Much to your dismay, however, a customer has brought to your attention Company B’s new line of kitchen utensils that uses a conspicuously similar name and logo. While initially sold at retail outlets, this new line of cutlery has grown in popularity with some of the nation’s top restaurants. When you reach out to Company B for an explanation, they direct you to your own now-glaring lack of any registration for goods in Class 21 for household utensils. Your brand, despite taking the cooking world by storm, is not quite famous enough to pursue a dilution claim. Are you out of luck in pursuing a claim for infringement?
Sometimes the quickest way out of something is straight through it. This advice holds true in life, and in trademarks.
Those who deal with trademarks are familiar with obstacles to registration based on similar third-party marks. It’s frustrating, and especially so if you had conducted a clearance search beforehand in an effort to avoid such obstacles and see no reasonable basis for the Trademark Office’s refusal. Other times, the Trademark Office may approve your application for publication, but a third party will oppose registration during the opposition period. Or maybe you haven’t even applied for registration in the Trademark Office, but you receive a letter threatening legal action if you do not cease and desist from the use of your mark.
So you’re thinking about changing your company name, brand, or both. We usually like to allow at least a few months to identify the new name and initiate protection. To help you plan, here’s a high-level overview of significant steps in the process. Happy rebranding!
In February 2020, Faegre Baker Daniels and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP combined to form one of the nation’s 50 largest law firms. Soon after the combination, Faegre Drinker shifted to a virtual work environment to protect our clients, colleagues and loved ones during the global COVID-19 pandemic. We nevertheless remained committed to the success of our clients in a challenging year, and focused on serving clients with our new firm’s combined capabilities.
This month marks not only the first year of Faegre Drinker, but also the inaugural year of TCAM Today – Faegre Drinker’s blog covering all things trademark, copyright, advertising and media. In 2020, Faegre Drinker’s team of more than 30 T-CAM professionals shared their insight on topics ranging from social media influencers to trademark trolls.
For many companies this simple request is surprisingly difficult to answer. Sure, maybe they have a few registration certificates in a drawer, or a docket sheet from their outside counsel, but what exactly does it mean to “have” a trademark? And how many of them do you have? And why do so many companies only notice they have a trademark after a competitor starts to infringe it?
Last month, in her fantastic post on trademark audits, our colleague Emily Bayton discussed the critical first step any company must take in order to answer those questions: understanding the scope of the official parts of your portfolio. What registrations are in your name? What jurisdictions do they cover? What rights do you license? How is your portfolio managed, and should your approach be changed? Without a real inventory – married to a regular analysis of needs and future plans – trademark portfolios can remain stuck in the past, designed to fight old competitive battles and failing to capitalize on new opportunities.
New Year’s resolutions are often thought of as individual self-improvement goals that frequently include aspirational health and wellness, financial discipline, habit forming or breaking, and similar goals. But these aspirational, improvement-focused goals do not need to be limited to personal goals. In fact, the “New Year, New You” mantra applies equally to the business world. The new year is a great time to push the reflect and reset button and to use the results of this reflection to accomplish business goals, including goals related to the company’s trademark portfolio. Finding time in the new year to conduct reflection in the form of an in-depth review of your trademark portfolio (often referred to as a trademark audit) can be a meaningful and important exercise for a number of reasons, including ensuring there are no significant gaps in coverage or other issues associated with your trademark portfolio that could negatively impact your business, such as compliance issues with requirements and deadlines for maintaining trademark rights, chain-of-title concerns, or improper use of trademarks that could impact the company’s rights. In addition, an audit, when performed correctly, can also provide a critical roadmap for the company for its trademark portfolio going forward.
In a year too often filled with unforeseen developments of every kind, a final surprise for many who were not paying close attention has emerged from December’s marathon stimulus and budget negotiations. This week, Congress included a trio of notable and hotly debated intellectual property measures in its multi-trillion-dollar spending and relief package. These bills, if signed into law as expected, could fundamentally alter the manner in which intellectual property owners protect and enforce their rights.
On November 17, 2020, the USPTO enacted a rule that will adjust trademark fees and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board fees. This is the first time that trademark fees have been adjusted since 2017. In the final rule, the USPTO says that the increase in fees is intended to further USPTO strategic objectives by better aligning fees with costs, protecting the integrity of the trademark register, improving the efficiency of agency processes, and ensuring financial sustainability to facilitate effective trademark operations. The new fees will take effect on January 2, 2021.
O Canada. Ohhh, Canada! – Delays and Restrictions on Trademark Registrations
With the assistance of local Canadian counsel, we frequently assist U.S. parties that use their marks in Canada to pursue registrations for their marks with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). That process changed fairly significantly when revisions to Canada’s Trademarks Act took effect in June 2019. The most obvious changes, relating to new requirements for identifying and classifying goods and services, lengthened the registration process. Add in circumstances relating to COVID-19, and delays in Canada have become the thing of which legends are made. Indeed, CIPO is currently taking approximately two years for the initial review of an application. Continue reading →
Nearly a year ago, we previewed the U.S. Supreme Court’s then-upcoming decision in Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil Group, Inc.—a case set to provide some much needed clarity on the question of whether plaintiffs in trademark infringement cases must demonstrate that defendants acted willfully in order for plaintiffs to recover defendants’ profits.
Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court resolving the circuit split on this issue and holding that a plaintiff alleging trademark infringement under § 1125(a) of the Lanham Act is not required to prove willful infringement as a precondition to recovering lost profits. The Court reasoned that the clear and unambiguous language of the Lanham Act’s remedies provision only requires a precondition of willfulness when awarding profits for trademark dilution under § 1125(c), not trademark infringement under § 1125(a). The Court was careful to note that willfulness, though not a precondition to awarding profits, remains an important factor a court should consider when assessing damages. It simply is not, however, an “inflexible” threshold inquiry.
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