WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker appointed Mary Boney Denison to be the new Commissioner for Trademarks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) effective January 1, 2015.
“Mary Denison has done a stellar job serving the American people as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Deputy Commissioner for Trademarks,” Pritzker said. “I know from experience that trademarks play a vital role in all forms of commerce, and Mary’s experience both at the USPTO and in the private sector will be of tremendous service to our nation’s economic growth. I look forward to working with her in her new capacity as Commissioner.”
Since June 2011, Denison has served as the Deputy Commissioner for Trademark Operations, where she has been responsible for USPTO trademark application, legal examination and registration processes. She has led outreach to the trademark legal community, small businesses and applicants without legal counsel. Denison is also an active participant in meetings with the world’s largest trademark offices, promoting projects aimed at harmonization of trademark practices and procedures. While at the USPTO she has initiated several projects to enhance and expand internal and external communications as well as employee career development.
Section 10(c) of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (‘‘AIA’’) authorized the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to consult with the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (‘‘TPAC’’) on the advisability of reducing trademark fees and, following the required consultation, to reduce such fees if it was determined to be appropriate.
The USPTO and TPAC did, in fact, determine that it would be advisable to reduce trademark filing fees for: (1) Trademark, certification mark, collective membership mark, and collective trademark applications for registration on both the Principal or Supplemental Register that are filed using the Trademark Electronic Application System (‘‘TEAS’’), if applicants authorize email communication and file specified documents electronically throughout the application process; (2) TEAS Plus applications for registration; and (3) TEAS applications for renewal of a registration.
Yesterday, as authorized by the AIA, the USPTO published the final rule in the Federal Register that will work to reduce certain trademark fees. According to the USPTO, the fee reductions will both reduce total trademark fee collections and promote efficiency for the USPTO and customers. Clearly, the emphasis is on encouraging use of USPTO electronic systems, which is light-years ahead on the Trademark side of the Office compared with the patent side of the Office.
Sony Computer Entertainment America (“Sony”) has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers with false advertising claims about the “game changing” technological features of its PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2011 and early 2012.
As part of its settlement with the FTC, Sony is barred from making similarly misleading advertising claims in the future, and will provide consumers who bought a PS Vita gaming console before June 1, 2012, either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher for select video games, and/or services. Sony will provide notice via email to consumers who are eligible for redress after the settlement is finalized by the Commission.
The Federal Trade Commission filed a federal court complaint against AT&T Mobility, LLC, charging that the company has misled millions of its smartphone customers by charging them for “unlimited” data plans while reducing their data speeds, in some cases by nearly 90 percent.
“AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.”
On October 3, 2014, I was at the University of Toledo College of Law for an all day program titled Doing Business in China. The program was excellent, but it had to come across as scary for a truly small business. During one of the breaks someone asked me what I was learning and my rather flip, off-the-cuff response was: “No one should do business in China.”
My snarky response was, of course, an exaggeration. Having said that, I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to say that there are significant hurdles to doing business in China. If your business does not quality as a “small entity” at the United States Patent and Trademark Office you absolutely should be doing business in China. But if you own a truly small business or start-up company you probably don’t have the resources necessary to be doing business in China. Where the threshold is between too small for China and too big not to be doing business in China is hard to say, but it is fair to say that all businesses of all sizes should at least investigate the realities of doing business and China and have a China strategy in place.
One of the real challenges for the truly small businesses is with the virtual unanimity of presenters and panelists on one point — in order to do business in China you really have to have an employee in place in China on a permanent basis. Another option discusses was having one of the principles or partners of the business always on the ground in China, perhaps rotating in and out so that someone is always there to make sure everything goes according to plan. This might seem like overkill, but one of the big problems with counterfeiting is when the Chinese manufacturer runs an extra shift off the books using your equipment and raw materials to create unauthorized products. Having a person on the ground in China seems absolutely essential.
The USPTO is seeking feedback from U.S. trademark owners, practitioners, and other interested parties about this proposal to allow amendments to identifications of goods and services due to technology evolution. Please send comments regarding the proposal to TMPolicy@uspto.gov, with the subject line “Technology Evolution.” Comments may be posted on the USPTO website. In order to ensure that your feedback may be considered, please submit it no later than November 3, 2014.
Based on user input, including at a recent roundtable, the USPTO proposes to amend its current practice to permit amendments in limited circumstances to identifications of goods/services based on changes in the manner or medium by which products and services are offered for sale and provided to consumers due to evolving technology if the underlying content or subject matter has not changed. This change in practice takes into account the goal of preserving trademark registrations and applications in situations where technology in an industry has evolved in such a way that amendment of the goods/services in question would not generate a public-notice problem.
In a memorandum decision handed down July 2, 2014, by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, most of the plaintiff claims in case 7:13-cv-02880, Leason Ellis LLP v. Patent & Trademark Agency LLC have been allowed to proceed in the face of the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
The multi-count Federal Complaint filed in April 2013 alleged that the defendants marketed their promotional materials to cause consumers to wrongly believe that it is an official governmental entity. The complaint asserted claims of federal unfair competition under 15 USC 1125(a), federal false advertising under 15 USC 1125(a) and New York statutory law, unfair competition under New York common law, deceptive acts and practices under New York statutory law, and tortious interference with prospective economic relations. The complaint also specifically alleges that the defendants are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
The complaint explained that Leason Ellis, which is a well regarded intellectual property firm particularly in the trademark law space, frequently “receives inquiries from clients who have received unsolicited offers for trademark-related services in the United States from various entities located in the U.S. and abroad.” The complaint goes on to further state: “Trademark scams are not new. The International Trademark Association (“INTA”)… has previously warned trademark owners about unsolicited offers for trademark-related services in the United States.
Yesterday the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) issued a decision in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., which canceled a variety of U.S. federal trademarks that were issued to the Washington Redskins football team between 1967 and 1990. The trademarks in question consisted in whole or in part of the term REDSKINS for professional football-related services. The TTAB ruled that these trademarks were inappropriately granted on the ground that the registrations were obtained contrary to Section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), which prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.
While this decision will be widely cheered by those who proclaim the virtues of political correctness, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that from a legal standpoint this decision is clearly wrong.
From a purely legal standpoint there is absolutely no valid reason to have canceled the trademarks in question, but this is the second time the TTAB has canceled these same trademarks. Ultimately, the previous challenge was reversed as the result of laches because the challengers waited too long to bring the challenge. Laches was not an issue in this case, but previously federal courts also question the evidence, or lack thereof, relied upon the challenge the trademarks. See Redskins Can Keep Trademark.
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court issued another of the many intellectual property related decisions the Court took during the October 2013 term. In this case, POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca-Cola Company, the Supreme Court reversed a decision from the Ninth Circuit that held that within the realm of labeling for food and beverages, a Lanham Act claim asserting that the label is deceptive and misleading is precluded by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The Supreme Court ruled that a claim brought pursuant to the Lanham Act, which makes deceptive and misleading advertising actionable under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), is not precluded by the FDCA, which forbids the misbranding of food, including by means of false or misleading labeling.
This case arose relating to the belief of POM that claims made by the Coca-Cola Company were misleading with respect to a juice blend sold by Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid division. The juice sold by Coca-Cola prominently displays the words “pomegranate blueberry,” but in truth the product contains only .3% pomegranate juice and only .2% blueberry juice.
In a unanimous ruling delivered by Justice Kennedy (minus Justice Breyer who took no part in the decision) explained that there is no text within the statutes that would support the contention that the FDCA precludes Lanham Act claims. Indeed, the Supreme Court specifically found the FDCA and the Lanham Act to complement each other.
The United States Federal District Court for the District of Nevada has dismissed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a foreign Internet poker site in a ruling that signals a rather substantial win for Internet businesses at large. The decision narrows the types of contacts that would confer general jurisdiction against foreign companies. The case is Best Odds Corp. vs iBus Media Limited, docket number 2:13-cv-020080RCJ-VCF.
Nevada-based online poker news site Best Odds Corp. sued the Isle of Man-based iBus Media Holdings for infringement of its MacPoker ® trademark, claiming that the Nevada courts had general jurisdiction over iBus Media’s poker news sites. Best Odds pointed to the defendants’ media kit, which alleged a significant U.S. presence. The court disagreed that these promotional statements conferred general jurisdiction over iBus Media.
In a June 4, 2014, ruling Judge Robert C. Jones granted iBus Media Holdings’ motion for dismissal of Best Odds Corp.’s trademark infringement lawsuit. Judge Jones said the plaintiff failed to make a case that Nevada courts had general jurisdiction over the foreign-based iBus Media, citing the Supreme Court’s recent Daimler AG v. Bauman decision, which Jones said “clarified that the reach of general jurisdiction is narrower than had been supposed in lower courts for many years.”
Washington – The U.S. Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to reduce fees for many new trademark applications and most renewals of registration. USPTO also proposes a new Trademark Electronic Application System Reduced Fee (TEAS RF) filing option in addition to reducing filing fees for both applications filed using the current TEAS Plus option and applications for renewal of a registration filed through TEAS.
“The proposed fee reductions advance the USPTO’s core mission of serving the public in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible,” said Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee. “Lower fees will lessen the burden for entrepreneurs to obtain the crucial trademark protection they need to grow their businesses, while increased electronic processing improves agency efficiency.”
As part of the Trademark Operation’s continuing series of roundtable discussions to gather stakeholder views on important issues, a roundtable discussion about USPTO’s practice regarding amendments to identifications of goods and services due to technology evolution will be held on Friday, April 11, from 2 – 3 pm. The session will be open to the public and webcast. The event will take place in the Madison Auditorium at the USPTO offices, located at 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314.
Under §7(e) of the Trademark Act, a registration based on an application under §1 or §44 of the Trademark Act may be amended for good cause upon application of the owner and payment of the prescribed fee, provided the amendment does not materially alter the character of the mark. 15 U.S.C. §1058(e). With respect to the identification of goods/services, an identification may be amended to restrict the identification or change it in ways that would not require republication of the mark. See 37 C.F.R. §2.173(e). However, no goods/services may be added to a registration by amendment. Moreover, under current USPTO practice, changed circumstances, such as new technology, will not render acceptable an amendment that is not otherwise permissible. TMEP §1609.03.