The Trademark Modernization Act

The Trademark Act, formally, the Lanham Act of 1946, has been revised multiple times since its enactment, however, the recent Trademark Modernization Act, (the Act) is the most radical adjustment since 1988. Congress signed the Act into law on Dec. 27, 2020 with full bipartisan support. The Act contains several new procedures that are meant to help maintain and strengthen the effectiveness and reliability of the federal trademark register.

First, one of the Act’s main goals is to minimize the issuance of registrations falsely claiming use in commerce of a mark that the registrant has not used in the required manner. There are now two new ex parte post-registration proceedings to cancel unused trademarks. A trademark applicant can now file a petition with the USPTO to request that the USPTO Director initiate a proceeding to expunge or to reexamine a registration for a trademark that either has never been used in commerce or was not used in commerce prior to a particular Relevant Date (see infra). Both petitions will generally require a verified statement establishing that a thorough investigation was conducted prior to the petition regarding whether the mark had been properly used in commerce and/or maintained. The following two proceedings are of particular use to new applicants looking to create and use a viable trademark but find that they are blocked from registration due to unused marks.

  1. Expungement: A trademark applicant can request that the USPTO remove some or all of the goods or services in a registration because a registrant did not use the trademark in commerce in connection with those goods or services. This petition must be filed within three to ten years of the registration date.
  2. Reexamination: A trademark applicant can request that the USPTO remove some or all of the goods and services in a registration because the trademark was not used in commerce in connection with those goods and services on or before a particular relevant date. The Act defines the Relevant Date as: 1) The date that the registrant filed an averment of use to support an application filed with a §1(a) basis or 2) The third anniversary of a registration issued under either §44(e) or §66(a). This petition must be filed with the first five years after the trademark is registered and is mostly directed at registrations where a questionable specimen proving the trademarks use in commerce was submitted during the original examination of the application.

Once the petition is filed properly, the Director will determine whether or not a removal of goods or services from a registration will occur. If some or all of the goods or services are removed, the registrant may appeal the decision to the TTAB, and after that, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Second, the Act now provides for more flexible response periods for office actions. Previously, the Trademark Act required a trademark applicant to respond to an office action issued during examination within six months. Now, under the Act, trademark examiners will have greater flexibility in setting response deadlines for office actions. This adjustment authorizes the USPTO to shorten response deadlines to between 60 days and six months, provided the applicants can obtain extensions of time to respond up until the original six-month deadline. The applicant must pay the USPTO a filing fee for these requests for extension.

Third, the Act provides statutory authority for the USPTO letter of protest practice that allows third parties to submit evidence to the USPTO prior to registration in regard to the trademark’s registrability. The Act sets a two-month deadline for the USPTO to act on the submissions and authorizes it to charge a $50 fee for them. Moreover, the new procedure provides that the USPTO’s decision on whether to include the evidence in the application record is final and non-reviewable. Consistent with the requirements of the Act, the USPTO issued the following procedural rules that went into effect on Jan. 2, 2021. The rules require: 1) The submission must identify each legal ground for an examining attorney to refuse registration or issue a requirement; 2) the inclusion of evidence that supports those grounds and 3) a succinct description for each piece of supporting evidence.

Finally, the Act creates a uniform rule establishing a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm. It provides that a trademark owner seeking injunctive relief is entitled to a rebuttal presumption of irreparable harm upon a finding of infringement or a likelihood of success on the merits. This rule will help trademark owners enforce their rights against infringers in federal court and unifies the law among the district courts.

Ultimately, the Act is meant to protect the relevant consuming public from confusion regarding the source of goods and services. It has also been enacted to better help protect trademark owners from fraudulent trademark filings, and allow new trademark registrants to register marks without being impeded by invalid marks.

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