Top Trademark Trends™ of 2015

In 2015, the field of trademarks featured many developments. Two major court cases featured significant developments but left much unsettled. Nearly every major story in the news was followed by related trademark issues. In all, 2015 was an exciting year for trademarks.

US trademark filings increase again. For the sixth year in a row, the number of trademark application filings submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has increased. However, this year’s increase of nearly ten percent was even larger than those of the last several years. As a result of the increased filings in recent years, the overall number of active US trademark registrations sits at an all-time high, nearly 2.1 million.

Supreme Court weighs in on trademark law. In March, the Supreme Court issued its first significant trademark ruling in years. B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1293 (2015). The Court held that proceedings at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) of the USPTO have a preclusive effect in later District Court actions when the proper conditions are met; it may take a few years before we know the full ramifications. In the short term, it means that the decision for some trademark plaintiffs whether to file a claim at the TTAB or in District Court may be more complicated, and the stakes may be raised in all trademark disputes as the consequences are more significant.

Refusal to register “disparaging” trademarks held unconstitutional. In December, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) held that the USPTO was wrong to refuse to register the name of a band, The Slants, on grounds that the name is disparaging. The CAFC held that the portion (in Section 2(a)) of the Lanham Act statute barring registration of disparaging terms violates the first amendment protections for private speech. The case could be appealed to the Supreme Court in 2016, and will likely affect the years-long saga involving the Washington Redskins trademarks.

Google and other logos get sleeker. Google unveiled a major logo redesign, but the design change was minimal. The significance of the change is that it created a more streamlined and sleek design package. In 2015, Verizon, Facebook, Spotify, OpenTable, and others also made subtle tweaks to their logos, all of made for simpler designs that are easier to read on small screens. As more brand interactions are online and mobile, look for other brands to simplify their logos next year as well.

Pop culture reflected in trademark applications. Major events in the news throughout the year were reflected in trademark application filings. For example, there were filings for Je Suis Charlie, Cecil the lion, Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again, and Deflatriots. Taylor Swift also made news by filing scores of new trademark applications in 2015, including SWIFTMAS.

On tap for 2016. I predict that next year in trademarks will include further developments in the Redskins and Slantscases regarding allegedly disparaging trademarks, an increase in some USPTO trademark filing fees, and a meeting of the five largest trademark offices (the ‘TM5’) in China next fall. Despite a contentious presidential election, companies will continue to innovate and to invest in new trademarks.

© 2015 Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

About Erik M. Pelton: Erik Pelton® has been making trademarks bloom since 1999® as the founder of Erik M. Pelton & Associates®, a boutique trademark law firm in Falls Church, Virginia. The firm has registered more than 2,000 U.S. trademarks for clients and has represented dozens of parties in trademark disputes. In 2015, Erik presented on trademark and branding issues to a variety of audiences, including the American Bar Association and a high school class.