Welcome to Trademark Red Tape, our periodic round-up of trademark news and happenings at the United States Patent & Trademark Office. Here are the highlights:
- A Time-Out for Offensive Trademarks. According to IP Watchdog, Mary Denison, the Commissioner for Trademarks, has issued an “informal” directive to trademark examiners that they should suspend trademark applications that would potentially violate Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, on the basis that the applied-for marks are immoral, deceptive, scandalous or disparaging. The directive anticipates a review of In re Tam and its companion cases — discussed here on the Trademark & Copyright Law Blog — by the U.S. Supreme Court. While it seems likely that the Supremes will take up In re Tam, the timing of the directive is curious given that we’ve yet to receive word that the U.S. government has filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the matter. The inclusion of “deceptive” marks is also interesting, as the eventual SCOTUS decision seems unlikely to apply to such marks. We’ll be keeping an eye on the situation.
- Quarterly TPAC Report. The quarterly meeting of the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (TPAC), a committee established by the Secretary of Commerce to review and advise on USPTO policies, goals, performance, budget, and fees, took place on February 12, 2016. Highlights from the meeting included bar association comments on proposed trademark fee increases (with notable concurrence that proposed fee increases for extensions of time to oppose are too high), confirmation that the random Proof of Use audits for maintenance filings (discussed here) are likely to be permanent, and discussions regarding possible IT budget reductions — the last item a disappointing development given intermittent TESS and TEAS technical difficulties, not to mention the troubling lack of IT backup that resulted in a multi-day shutdown of USPTO services back in December.
- Technology Evolution Pilot Program. The Pilot Program to allow amendments to identifications of goods and services in trademark registration due to changes in technology, discussed on the Trademark & Copyright Law Blog here, continues apace, and seems likely to become a permanent fixture of post-registration trademark practice. If you’re interested in a taking a look at the types of amendments that have been permitted under the Pilot Program and published for inspection (hint: most involve sound and video recordings!), you can check out the published amendments here.
- TTABVUE Users Forum. On March 3, the PTO hosted a TTABVUE Users Forum at its DC offices. TTABVUE, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Inquiry System, which allows users to check the status of active TTAB proceedings and retrieve documents, has long been criticized for its limited functionality. Among the features requested by audience member practitioners were full text searching of opinions and party submissions, proper linking of parent/child cases, and searching for specific document types (e.g., motions to amend) — all of which would be quite welcome!
- The TTAB on Tour! Also on the TTAB front, the PTO recently partnered with various law schools across the country for a so-called Stadium Tour, which hosted live TTAB and PTAB proceedings and educational sessions. It sounds like these events, which took place at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Emory Law School in Atlanta, University of Missouri in Columbia, and University of Utah in Salt Lake City, resembled the highly successful TTAB Comes to Boston events hosted by the Boston Patent Law Association (BPLA), which are unfailingly exciting and educational. It’s a great idea to give practitioners and law students a face-to-face glimpse of our favorite administrative tribunal, and hopefully additional schools will be added to the TTAB’s Stadium Tour docket in the future.
We’ll be back soon with additional updates, among them an update on the Section 2(a) suspensions, and what look like some new TTAB rules coming down the pipeline.