Earlier this month, the Lanham Act saw its 75th Anniversary. On July 5th, 1947, the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act, went into effect after being signed by President Harry S. Truman the year prior. The Lanham Act created the modern day national trademark registration system and enforced federal protections for trademark holders. Expanded upon throughout the decades, it has been a critical piece of trademark legislation for the last seventy-five years.
Trademarks are around us every day – they present themselves on the toothpaste we use in the morning to the garbage bags we take out at night. The idea of trademarks dates back to before the common era, wherein manufacturers of goods would leave identifying symbols on their products. Artifacts from Rome have been found with engraved marks of initials and names of what are presumed to be the makers. Historians note that blacksmiths who made swords for the Roman Empire were the first to use trademarks.
Prior to the Lanham Act, federally enforced trademark legislation was somewhat ineffective and state statutes held most of the burden. In addition, trademarks did not expire, regardless of their use. Once the Lanham Act was enacted, it provided the procedures for federally registering trademarks and maintaining those registrations. The Lanham Act also gives trademark holders federal jurisdiction in enforcing their rights to the mark against infringers, including unregistered trademark infringement. In addition, the Lanham Act provides a cause of action for trademark dilution, cybersquatting, unfair competition and false advertising. An example of the use of the Lanham Act in enforcing rights against false advertising claims is seen in General Mills, Inc. v. Chobani, LLC, 158 F. Supp. 3d 106 (N.D.N.Y. 2016); Chobani, LLC v. Dannon Company, Inc., 157 F. Supp. 3d 190 (N.D.N.Y. 2016). In 2016, yogurt makers Dannon and General Mills (Yoplait) sued their yogurt competitor Chobani for violations under the Lanham Act for commercials that featured products from the brands in poor light. The ads mentioned ingredients such as sucralose being used in Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt and potassium sorbate in Yoplait Greek 100 and implied both were not safe for consumptions; and the court ordered Chobani to pull the ads containing the false message.
The Lanham Act is an important piece of legislation in the world of trademarks. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) celebrates the anniversary today with a webinar featuring guest speakers such as Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Representative Ted Deutch of Florida and more.
For more information about trademarks, please contact Kim Grimsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy World IP Day! World IP Day was created 21 years ago and is celebrated on April 26th each year. It is a day to raise awareness of IP (Intellectual Property, which includes trademarks, copyright, trade secrets and patents) and how IP impacts daily life. Each year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) chooses a new theme. This year, WIPO’s theme is “IP and SMEs: Taking your Ideas to Market” which highlights how Intellectual Property helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow and thrive.
In a video message from WIPO’s Director General Daren Tang, he describes small and medium-sized enterprises as “unsung heroes” noting that SMEs make up 90% of all companies worldwide and 70% of global employment. A link to his message and the WIPO page on World IP Day is found at https://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/.
Intellectual property is extremely valuable to SMEs to assist in their value and growth. As IP attorneys, we work with SME’s on a day in day out basis to provide our clients with the guidance and knowledge to identify, build upon and protect their valuable intangible IP assets.
Oliver & Grimsley’s own Mike Oliver has been named to the 2021 Best Lawyers® list for his work in Copyright Law, Information Technology Law, Trade Secrets Law and Trademark Law. Mike has been on this list for 15 years (since 2006). Mike was also named Copyright Law Lawyer of the Year in 2020 for Baltimore (the third time). He has previously been named Best Lawyers® “Lawyer of the Year” in Baltimore for Information Technology Law in 2016, Trademark Law in 2015 and 2012, and Intellectual Property Law in 2011. Only one lawyer is chosen a year for each practice area and location and is generally chosen by who receives the highest overall peer-feedback.
Mike Oliver has been practicing law for over thirty years and his wealth of experience led him to opening his own firm, alongside partner Kim Grimsley, in 2013.
Everyone at Oliver & Grimsley would like to congratulate Mike on his achievement and look forward to his continuing to excel in the future
Have you been sitting in your house, properly adhering to stay-at-home standards, and thinking to yourself, “I can’t wait to get some sweet coronavirus merch?” That is at least what recent trademark filers have assumed you were thinking, anyway. Since the beginning of 2020, fifty-three (53) trademark applications have been filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) containing the word “CORONAVIRUS”, and with one hundred seventy-six (176) more being filed containing “COVID.”
The majority of the trademark applications being filed are for printed materials like t-shirts or bumper stickers. “I SURVIVED THE CORONOAVIRUS,” “I SURVIVED COVID-19,” “CATS AGAINST COVID-19,” and “CORONAVIRUS FREE” are just a few examples. A quick search on the website Redbubble, a place where artists upload their designs to be printed on various items and sold, shows a litany of products already on the market.
While it is understandable that budding entrepreneurs may be looking to the current pandemic as a way to make a profit during this difficult economic time and achieve something positive, not every use of “CORONAVIRUS” or “COVID-19” is entitled to federal trademark protection. So, it seems like a good time to take a brief moment to highlight several of the issues you should consider as you seek federal trademark protection, coronavirus-related or otherwise.
First: what is a trademark? It is not just a clever saying – although that could be the beginning concept– but more is needed to establish trademark rights A trademark is a word, phrase, design or combination of both that is used in connection with goods or services and identifies and distinguishes the source of the good or services of one party from those of others. Consumers, for example, want to know when they’re drinking a genuine COCA-COLA product, not someone else’s inferior product with an infringing name slapped on it. Thus, consumers associate you as the source of a product or a service when your trademark appears on that product or service. By applying your trademark to your products or services, for example on a clothing line or a video game product, or in connection with consulting services or health-related services, you are building rights in your trademark.
Also, at the time you file your trademark application, you must either (1) be using the mark in a trademark sense in interstate commerce (that is, actually selling your goods or rendering services to customers between more than one state or U.S. territory, or in commerce between the U.S. and another country); or (2) have a bona fide good faith intent to do so. You cannot obtain a registered trademark by merely requesting a “place holder” so no one else can use the mark on a particular good or service when you do not have a bona fide good faith intent to use the mark. To show a bona fide good faith intent, you should have documentation to back up your intent, such as marketing plans and internal business meeting memoranda.
Further, prior to filing, it would be in your best interest to make sure the mark is available for registration. If a third party has started using an identical or confusingly similar trademark before you in connection with the same or related goods or services, they would be the senior user of the mark and would have priority rights over you. The United States is a use-based nation, meaning that trademark rights are created through the use of the trademark, and not necessarily through registration. For this reason, a trademark search for the availability of a trademark – although not mandatory – is extremely beneficial in determining if your trademark is eligible for registration.
This brings us to an important point regarding use of the trademark. When a trademark is applied to your goods or services, the mark should be used in a “trademark sense” as opposed to an ornamental sense. For example, a t-shirt design with the trademark placed largely front and center would not be considered a trademark use; rather, it would be seen merely as an ornamental use. To function as a trademark, the mark would need to be displayed in a certain way for example, a properly used trademark would be displayed on clothing on its tag or label. The mark could also be displayed on the clothing item itself, usually in a smaller size above the breast, behind the neck, or son the arm of the shirt). For services, the trademark would be used in connection with the services – for instance, on one’s website or brochures describing the services provided under the trademark. A trademark will not register on the Patent and Trademark Office’s Principal Register (where distinctive marks are registered) if it considered merely decorative or “ornamental.”
Also, when considering whether to seek trademark registration, you may wish to consider how long you intend to use the mark, as the registration process can take 9-12 months if all goes smoothly at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and there are no issues with the mark. During that period, you can use the TM symbol on your trademark, but you cannot use the registration symbol until the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office actually issues a registration certificate. Further, there are continued costs associated with maintaining the trademark after registration. As an example, while we may all be thinking about COVID-19 now, hopefully down the road when we are all allowed to see each other’s bright and shining faces in public again, the initial phase of “covidwear” may fade out (as we hope the virus phases out), and you may no longer have a viable business interest in selling your goods or services under that mark. If you have any questions, please contact Kimberly Grimsley email@example.com or Jennifer Mumm firstname.lastname@example.org at Oliver & Grimsley.