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Top Trademark TrendsSM of 2014

By Erik M. Pelton & Associates® – The Nontraditional Trademark Lawyers®

Once again, trademarks and pop culture collided frequently in 2014. For example, more than 50 “JOHNNY ____” applications were filed this year as quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns including JOHNNY MAN’Z ALE, JOHNNY CLEVELAND, JOHNNY HOCKEY, JOHNNY PIGSKIN, and JOHNNY BENCHWARMER. Another football trademark story made big news as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) ruled in a case to cancel the Redskins trademark registrations.  Other big news stories, like the ebola outbreak, also were reflected the trademark filings. Another remarkable trademark story from 2014 was the Supreme Court, for the first time in several years, hearing a trademark case (B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc.). The case involves the differences in proceedings before the USPTO’s trademark appeal board and the Federal courts, and the Court will likely rule on it in the spring of 2015. Here is a summary of the year’s major trademark related developments:

Washington, DC Professional Football Team Trademark. In June, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted a request filed by several Native Americans to cancel those trademarks that feature the term “Redskins.” However, the decision is now on appeal and the ongoing dispute, which has lasted for over a decade, continues. Following the decision, many other applicants filed trademark applications for potential team names, such as WASHINGTON AMERICANS, WASHINGTON NATIVES, WASHINGTON FEDSKINS, WASHINGTON WARRIORS.

Popular Terms: Selfie, Drone, Weed, Vape, and more. Once again, the most popular words and phenomena in pop culture made their way into many trademark filings. The 2014 word of the year, according to Oxford English Dictionary, is “Vape.”  And business owners certainly agree as more than 300 applications were filed at the USPTO featuring the word VAPE. Other popular trademark terms in 2014 included SELFIE (140+ applications), DRONE (100+ applications), and WEED (150+ applications). More than 100 filings in 2014 contain the “#” hashtag symbol. Online and environmental branding trends from the last few years contained in 2014 as SOCIAL remained popular (400+ applications), along with CLOUD (700+ applications), while more than 1,000 applications were filed featuring GREEN.

Logo Trends. As even more business and advertising moves online and via mobile devices, logos are trending to simpler smaller designs, which make them faster to load and easier to see on mobile screens. Terrific logo redesigns from popular online businesses include those from FOURSQUARE , PayPal, and AirBnB.

 PayPal Logo

Ebola. The spread of ebola was certainly a big story in 2014. At the USPTO, there were several applications filed for ebola related treatments and products including ZMAPP (Pharmaceutical preparations for treatment of Ebola virus infections), EBOLAHOL (antiviral disinfectant products for Ebola), EBOLAWAY (Antibacterial and antiviral sprays and wipes for eliminating bacteria and virii), and EBOLA OUTBREAK MAP.

Controversial Trademark Filings. The ALS Association rode a wave of viral social media activity last summer to raise more than $100 million dollars. Most of the activity was the result of the “ice bucket challenge.” The Association made quite a stir later in the summer when it applied to register four trademarks featuring the phrase, including ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE and #ICEBUCKETCHALLENGE. However, following a rapid backlash questioning the charitable intent and legality of claiming sole ownership and control of the phrase, the Association withdrew the applications.  Other questionable trademark filings included names related to tragedies, such as the MH17 and MH370 airplanes.  Last year’s trends noted the numerous BOSTON STRONG trademark application filings; as of today all but one of them has been abandoned.

Trademark scams continue. Despite one law firm’s successful quest to shutdown an operation preying on trademark holders, such scams from numerous companies offering negligible or questionable services remain prolific. Join a petition to “Request USPTO Investigation and Action Regarding Trademark Scams” here.

What to look for in 2015. Expect even more trademark disputes to go viral via social media, building upon the success of EAT MORE KALE fending off a claim from Chik-fil-A and Eat Mor Chikin. Also expect the number of nontraditional trademark filings to continue to grow as more brands protect colors, sounds, shapes, and other indicators of source featuring more than words or logos.

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© 2014 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, PLLC®, 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 2014, Erik presented on trademark and branding issues to a variety of audiences, including the American Bar Association and a junior high school class.

Prior issues of Top Trademark TrendsSM

Despite the best efforts of many, scammers continue to take advantage of trademark owners. When applicants file to register trademarks with the USPTO their application data becomes part of a public record. A variety of scammer then take that public information and prey upon them with questionable and overpriced services.

The USPTO warns applicants on their website and when they mail copies of USPTO trademark registrations.

The law firm of Leason Ellis has twice sued scam operators to put them out of business.

And I have written for years about this issue. Yet the problem persists.

Join me to call upon the USPTO to do more. This petition has 74 signatures. Perhaps if it receives hundred of signatures the USPTO or TPAC will take notice. Click on the link below to visit the ipetitions site and sign the petition. The full text of the petition is below.

Request USPTO Investigation and Action Regarding Trademark Scams

File:Icon scam11.gif

 

petitions

 

Dear Commissioner Cohn and Chairman Tepper, We write to request that the USPTO, with assistance from the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (“TPAC”), renew and strengthen efforts to combat the ongoing epidemic of trademark related scams targeting trademark applicants and registrants. As you are no doubt aware, several entities with names like United States Trademark Registration Office; World Intellectual Property Database; GBO INC., Trademark and Patent Dep.; and USA TradeMark Ent., INC. use the contact information available in the USPTO’s database to mail and email solicitations to trademark applicants, including those represented by counsel. The solicitations often include offers for listing marks in registries that are of no value to the trademark owner, if they exist at all. The solicitors use a combination of names, language, and letterhead that clearly attempt to mimic official government correspondence. These solicitations lack any true value, confuse those who receive them, collect money in return for a service of little or no benefit, and damage the integrity of the trademark registration system. Others have had some success taking steps to limit these practices. For example, in 2009 the Attorney General of Florida successfully brought a case against Federal Institute for Patent and Trademark Registry for violation of the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. More recently, the law firm of Leason Ellis has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against U.S. Trademark Enterprises alleging federal false advertising and state unfair competition torts (see http://bit.ly/ymjXya). However, we believe that more must be done to protect users of the trademark system from these deceptive practices. Therefore, we urge the USPTO to: a) coordinate with the Commissioner for Trademarks, the Federal Trade Commission, state agencies, law enforcement, and others with jurisdiction over the subject matter to investigate issues of false advertising, impersonating a government agency, and/or charging money for services of no value; b) create additional warnings and educational content for trademark applicants and registrants regarding these issues; and c) take any other actions possible to limit the damage caused by these scams. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, Erik M. Pelton (author)

Kudos to our colleagues from Leason Ellis. As reported in May of 2013, they sued a trademark scam outfit, Patent & Trademark Agency, LLC for sending misleading trademark solicitations. And now, the case has been settled and and the scammers will cease operations, according to a report from Law360.  According to the report:

The agreement bans Organesjans and his company from involvement in offering trademark registration or renewal services, or marketing such services. It likewise bans them from offering services assisting people and businesses in other intellectual property-related activities.

Trademark applicants and registrants should be extremely skeptical of any communications that are not from their counsel or from the USPTO directly. Many others mine the public data and send emails and/or mailings with dubious offerings. Some of them appear to intentionally mimic government correspondence.

Well done, Leason Ellis. Thank you for protecting trademark owners everywhere.

For more information about other trademark scam solicitations, see my post:
USPTO warns about 13 trademark scam operations

 

Last month, the FTC announced a warning, and tips, regarding government imposter scams.  A related FTC webpage features some good information for identifying such scams, and for how to report them.

Unfortunately, the FTC posts don’t reference scams targeting trademark owners based on the USPTO’s public records. These scams, for international registries and other worthless services, request large sums of money be wired to the offering party. And the solicitation is often made to mimic government correspondence.

While the USPTO did go after one such scam operator in the last few years, it is a shame that the USPTO and the FTC have not done more.

If you are interested in the topic, please contact the USPTO and/or the FTC.  You can sign my petition (Request USPTO Investigation and Action Regarding Trademark Scams) here.

image from ftc.gov

 

To my knowledge, the USPTO and FTC have not yet taken any action against scammers in the US preying on trademark applicants and registrants. See for example:

However,  the UK IPO is not sitting idly. They have taken against against at least two of these outfits to protect consumers and punish the entities for “passing off.” According to a report on gov.uk from August 18, 2014,

“Two of the most blatant offenders – ‘Patent and Trademark Office’ and ‘Patent and Trade Mark Organisation’ – and the persons behind these organisations, Mr Aleksandrs Radcuks and Mr Igors Villers, have admitted and settled our claims and agreed to be bound by an Order of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court prohibiting them from further acts of passing off.”

Furthermore, the report indicates that the parties were required to make a substantial payment to cover some of IPO’s legal costs.

I sure hope the USPTO takes note of these actions and successes and considers taking steps to stop these scams and to protect US consumers.

For more reporting on this story, see: