Posts Tagged ‘registration’

Copyright Notice

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

On the topic of copyrights, many of the basics have been covered, including the benefits of copyright registration and the duration of copyright registration. However, this post will discuss copyright notice, which is distinct from copyright registration. While copyright registration validates an author’s claim to a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright notice validates an author’s claim to a work with the public.

The following will detail the elements of copyright notice, when it’s required and when it’s optional, the legal formalities that surround copyright notice and the advantages of including a notice on a work. Before delving too far into this post, it is important to note that for works created after March 1, 1989, copyright notice is optional, but for works created prior to that date, it is generally required.

Copyright notice is a statement put on copies of a work to inform the public that the author is claiming ownership. There are three elements to a notice, and they most often occur as a single continuous statement: (1) The copyright symbol ©; the word “copyright” or the abbreviation “copr.” (2) The year of first publication of the work and (3) The name of the copyright owner. The use of a copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require permission from the Copyright Office, nor does it require registration.

For works published prior to March 1, 1989, the copyright owner was required to place an effective notice on all publicly distributed “visually perceptible” copies. Visually perceptible copies are those that can be seen or read, either directly or with the help of a machine, such as a film. For works published before the above date, the copyright notice had to be placed on copies in a permanent way that was legible to an ordinary user of the work and could not be concealed from view upon reasonable examination.

As described above, there are three general elements of a copyright notice and form a single continuous statement. However, for works that required copyright notice, it was acceptable to omit the year of publication for works reproduced on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys or any “useful” article. Information regarding the specifics of elements of notice can be found in the Compendium on the Copyright Office’s website.

Copyright notice is optional for unpublished works, foreign works or works published on or after March 1, 1989. Although copyright notice is optional for these works, there are several advantages to using a copyright notice: notice makes potential users aware that copyright is claimed in the work; in the case of a published work, a notice may prevent a defendant in a copyright infringement action from attempting to limit his or her liability for damages or injunctive relief based on an “innocent infringement defense”; notice identifies the copyright owner at the work was first published for parties seeking permission to use the work; notice identifies the year of first publication, which may be used to determine the term of copyright protection in the case of an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work or a work made for hire; and notice may prevent the work from becoming an orphan work by identifying the copyright owner and specifying the term of the copyright.

In sum, although copyright notice is optional for works created after March 1, 1989, the notice has several advantages that can be extremely beneficial to an author in multiple circumstances. Notice does not need to be registered or approved with the Copyright Office. For works created prior to March 1, 1989, copyright notice is mandatory and there are several formats in which it can be used depending on practicality.

Benefits of Copyright Registration

Friday, May 29th, 2020

Copyright exists automatically in an original work of authorship as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium. The copyright affords the author six exclusive rights that are protected by U.S. law. Although not mandatory, an author can enhance the protections of copyright by registering the work with the United States Copyright Office. Once a work is registered it establishes an author’s claim to copyright with the Copyright Office, which allows the author to defend and enforce the rights of the work through litigation. Notice of registration most commonly consists of the copyright symbol © or the word “Copyright,” along with the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication. While placing a copyright notice on any original work is good practice, placing a copyright notice on a work does not substitute for registration.

An application for registration can be filed by the author or owner of an exclusive right in a work, the owner of all the exclusive rights or an agent on the author or owner’s behalf. (see this post for copyright ownership) There are three essential parts to a registration application: a completed application, a nonrefundable filing fee and a nonreturnable deposit. The deposit is a copy, or copies, of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.

The certificate of registration is important because it creates a public record containing all of the critical information relating to the original work and the author or owner. The information that becomes public record includes the title of the work, the author of the work, the name and address of the claimant or copyright owner, the year of creation and other information regarding the status of the work, such as whether it’s been published, has been previously registered or includes preexisting material. Since registration is not mandatory, it can be done at any time within the life of the copyright. (see this post for the lifespan of copyright)  There are certain benefits to timely filing a copyright application addressed in benefit three below.

Aside from establishing a public record of a copyright claim, registration has multiple advantages. Following, are four of the most critical statutory benefits as stated by the Copyright Office. First, before an infringement suit can be filed in court, the work must be registered with the Copyright Office. Second, registration establishes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate when registration is made before or within five years of publication. Third, when a registration is made prior to infringement or within three months after publication of a work, a copyright owner is eligible for statutory damages, attorneys’ fees and other related costs. Lastly, registration allows a copyright owner to establish a record with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

The effective date of registration to the certificate of registration is the day the Copyright Office receives a completed registration application. If the registration does not contain all of the required elements, as mentioned above, the date will not be set until the Copyright Office is in possession of those elements. Though there is no deadline for this, copyright registration (or refusal) from the Copyright Office is necessary prior to filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. An applicant may seek statutory damages and attorneys’ fees in an infringement suit if the action began after the effective date of registration. Though collection can only take place after the effective date of registration, the law provides a three-month grace period after publication wherein full remedies may be recovered for any infringement action that began during those three months after publication if registration is made before the period ends.

Although registration is not mandatory since copyright is instilled in a work as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium, registration (indeed timely registration) has many benefits.

Deceptive Marks

Friday, January 31st, 2020

An earlier post discussed marks that were found to be deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. This post will discuss marks that are found to be deceptive under §2(a) of the Act. The Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a), bars registration of deceptive matter on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure specifies that, “Neither a disclaimer of the deceptive matter nor a claim that is has acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) can obviate a refusal under §2(a) on the ground that the mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter.”

A deceptive mark can be a single deceptive term, a deceptive term within a composite mark which also features non-deceptive elements or a term or portion of a term that suggests a deceptive quality, characteristic, function, composition or use. Deceptive marks can also be marks that falsely portray the material content of a product and marks that are geographically misdescriptive.

To determine whether or not a mark consists of or comprises deceptive matter, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit created a three-prong test; see In re Budge Mfg. Co., 857 F.2d 773, 775, 8 USPQ2d 1259, 1260 (Fed. Cir. 1988). The test is the same one used to determine whether or not a mark is deceptively misdescriptive. The three parts, as outlined in the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, are as follows: (1) Is the term misdescriptive of the character, quality, function, composition or use of the goods? (2) If so, are prospective purchasers likely to believe that the misdescription actually describes the goods? (3) If so, is the misdescription likely to affect a significant portion of the relevant consumers’ decision to purchase?

If the first two prongs are satisfied, then a term is deceptively misdescriptive under §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act. If the first two, and the third prong are met, then the mark is deceptive. A deceptively misdescriptive mark may feature a misdescription that is a relevant factor that may be considered in the purchasing decision. However, if a mark features a misdescription that is a material factor considered in the purchasing decision, it is deceptive under §2(a).  In any case where it is not clear whether or not a misdescription would materially affect a decision to purchase, an examining attorney should refuse federal registration under both §2(a) and §2(e)(1) of the Lanham Act.

In order for an examining attorney to establish a prima facie case of deceptiveness, he/she must supply sufficient evidence to show that the misdescriptive quality or characteristic would be a material factor in the purchasing decision of a “significant portion of the relevant consumers.” To supply such evidence, the examining attorney must produce evidence that the misdescriptive quality or characteristic would make the goods or services “more appealing or desirable to prospective purchasers.”

When determining whether a mark is deceptive or not, there are certain objective criteria that an examining attorney must analyze in deciding if a misdescriptive term is a material factor or not. Often, if there is evidence of “objective inducement to purchase” within or comprising the mark, it supports a notion that a reasonable number of relevant consumers would likely be deceived. Five common objective criteria considered when materiality are, (1) Superior Quality, (2) Enhanced Performance or Function, (3) Difference in Price, (4) Health Benefit and (5) Religious Practice or Social Policy. If an examining attorney can provide evidence showing that the goods or services for which the mark is being used do not contain the above criteria, then the mark will be deemed deceptive.

The same evidence used to show that a term is deceptively misdescriptive can also be used to establish that a mark is deceptive. This includes Internet searches using the objective criteria and applicant’s own advertising materials including specimens, brochures, web pages, press releases or product or service information sheets. An examining attorney must also record any instances in which an applicant attempts to benefit as a result of the potentially deceptive term. Instances wherein advertising materials contain false ascertains pertaining to the deceptive wording must be recorded as well. An applicant’s intent to deceive may also provide strong evidence in determining whether or not a mark is deceptive, though showing intention is not a requirement under §2(a) of the Act.

A mark that is found to be deceptive under §2(a) of the Lanham Act may, under no circumstance, be registered on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register. However, if a mark is found to be deceptively misdescriptive, it may be eligible for registration under §2(f) of the Act if it has acquired distinctiveness, or on the Supplemental Register if appropriate.

The Difference Between the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

There are two separate and distinct federal trademark registers: the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register.

Fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive marks and marks that have become distinctive through exclusive and continuous use in commerce for more than five years are eligible for registration on the Principal Register.  Once a mark is on the Principal Register, it is afforded the full range of benefits and protections under the Lanham Act. A successfully registered mark is prima facie evidence of registrant’s ownership and exclusive nationwide right to use the registered mark in connection with the specified goods or services. 15 U.S.C. § 1057(b).  The registration provides constructive notice of a claim of ownership which means that an opposing litigant cannot raise a defense of good-faith adoption against a mark on the Principal Registration. 15 U.S.C. § 1057(c) and 15 U.S.C. § 1072.  Once a mark on the Principal Register has been in continuous use in commerce for five years, it may become incontestable and immune from certain attacks and defenses. 15 U.S.C. § 1065.  In a successful infringement action, the registrant may seek increased statutory damages.  15 U.S.C. § 1117 and 18 U.S.C. § 2320.  Finally, marks registered on the Principal Register can be used to stop the importation of infringing goods or services into the United States. 15 U.S.C. § 1124. There are additional benefits to registration on the Principal Register which are held in common with marks on the Supplemental Register.

The Supplemental Register is often an option for weak marks that can potentially identify goods or services from a particular source. These are the marks that are already in use in commerce and have been refused registration on the Principal Register because they are merely descriptive, deceptively misdescriptive, primarily geographically descriptive or primarily merely a surname. The Supplemental Register is preferential to merely continued common law use because it affords certain protections.  Marks on either the Principal Register or on the Supplemental Register may give notice of federal registration by using the encircled “R;” the registrants have the right to assert claims of infringement of a registered mark in federal court; the registration provides notice to those conducting clearance searches; the registration bars registration of subsequently filed confusingly similar marks and the registration may serve as the basis for foreign filing.

However, marks on the Supplemental Register do not enjoy a presumption of validity, ownership and exclusive right to use the mark, they may not be recorded with Customs to prevent importation of counterfeits and they may not become incontestable after five years of exclusive and continuous use.  After five years of exclusive and continuous use in commerce, a Supplemental Register registrant is eligible to file for registration of his/her mark on the Principal Register, only if the mark has acquired a secondary meaning. Only if the mark has become distinctive in connection with the goods or services will registration on the Principal Register be allowed.

When registration is not available on the Principal Register, trademark owners should explore the option of Supplemental Registration because it affords many advantages over common law use.



Selecting a Strong Trademark

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Not all trademarks are created equal. Certain types of marks are entitled to little or no protection, while others are afforded a strong scope of protection against competing marks. The purpose of a trademark is to inform consumers of the source of the goods or services. Strong trademarks can be used to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks (i.e. source identifiers) in connection with similar goods or services, so the consumer is not confused as to the source. Regardless of whether a mark is a common law mark or a registered mark, the strength of the rights acquired in the mark depends on its level of distinctiveness. There are five categories of trademarks within the spectrum of distinctiveness. Each category will be addressed from the weakest type of mark to the strongest.

Generic Marks: These marks are the weakest and an owner cannot use this type of mark to identify the source of his/her goods or services or register a generic mark with the USPTO. A generic term is one that describes a whole category or a group of goods or services. For example, an owner cannot register the trademark “COLA,” because the generic term describes an entire category of beverages. Because a generic term is simply a descriptor, no one owner can claim exclusive rights to it.

Descriptive Marks: These are the second weakest type of mark and often convey an immediate idea of the ingredients, qualities or characteristics of a good or service. Much like generic terms, these are words or phrases that are commonly used in connection with goods and services and can be difficult to distinguish from one another. An example of a descriptive mark would be “Clean Shower” for a shower cleaning product.  The mark is simply identifying what the product does and uses a descriptive term that is not unique to one specific product. Under the common law, a descriptive mark is entitled to little or no protection, with certain exceptions. The USPTO may not register “merely descriptive” marks. This is because registration would possibly prevent competitors from describing their own products. Sometimes, descriptive marks can become associated with the goods or services with which they are used. After a minimum of five years of using a mark in commerce with goods or services, the mark may be said to have acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning because purchasers have come to associate the descriptive words with one source for the products or services. At the USPTO, an owner may attempt to show that they used the mark for at least five years exclusively and continuously. If it can be shown that by the fifth anniversary, the mark has acquired distinctiveness/secondary meaning, it may qualify for registration with the USPTO. Two examples of descriptive marks that have acquired a secondary meaning are AMERICAN AIRLINES and KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN. Surnames fall in the descriptive category as well, such as the hotel chain HILTON Hotel. Aside from famous marks, when descriptive marks are afforded protection, it is usually very narrow.

Suggestive Marks: These marks often suggest an aspect or feature of an owner’s goods or services without directly describing the product.  There is sometimes a fine line between suggestive marks and descriptive marks. Suggestive marks require more thought to grasp the connection between the mark and the good or service. They are more vague than descriptive marks, which directly describe the product. Suggestive marks have a higher chance of being approved by the USPTO because standing alone, the word or phrase does not immediately convey the goods or services to which it is connected. These marks, which are more unique or creative, can be afforded a broader scope of protection. An example of a suggestive mark would be “COPPERTONE,” for the brand of sunscreen. The mark “COPPERTONE,” suggests the outcome of the product, without directly describing it. Another example is “PLAYBOY.” Some of the most contentious litigation hinges on whether a mark is descriptive or offensive.

Arbitrary Marks: These are existing words or phrases that would not normally be associated with an owner’s goods or services. These are terms or phrases that are unrelated to the good or service itself. They are the second strongest type of mark because the owner is giving a common word or phrase a new or unique meaning by associating it with his/her product. An example of a strong arbitrary mark would be “UBER” for the ridesharing service. While the term “uber” is now associated mainly with the ridesharing service, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the term “uber” as, “being a superlative example of its kind or class.” Other examples include “APPLE” for technological products and “CAMEL” for tobacco products.

Coined or Fanciful Marks: These marks are the strongest, and most well-protected marks. A fanciful mark is a made-up term that does not have a previously existing dictionary definition. A coined term is a new and unique combination of words without a previous meaning. Since these terms did not exist prior to their usage, they are extremely difficult, or even impossible to challenge. Examples include: EXXON, ROLEX, LEXUS, XEROX and CLOROX.

In conclusion, when choosing a trademark, it is important for an owner to come up with a creative name for his/her goods or services.

How long does Federal Trademark Registration last? How do I maintain my Registration?

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

An owner’s federal trademark registration rights can last indefinitely as long as he/she has properly registered the mark and continues to use the mark in commerce in connection with the listed goods and services and stays on a strict post-registration maintenance schedule. To maintain a trademark registration,  an owner must file a Declaration of Use and/or Excusable Nonuse of Mark under §8 of the Trademark Act along with a specimen evidencing the use. This must be filed on a date that falls on or between the fifth and sixth anniversaries of registration (or for an extra fee of $100 per class,  it can be filed within the six-month grace period following the sixth anniversary).

The owner must file a §8 Declaration of Use with a supporting specimen and an Application for Renewal under §9 of the Trademark Act, on a date that falls on or between the ninth and tenth anniversaries of registration (or for an extra fee of $100 per class, it can be filed within the six-month grace period following the registration expiration date). Following the tenth anniversary of the mark, the owner must file a §8 and §9 within the 12-month period proceeding every 10-year anniversary thereafter.

Failure to file each of the three components in a timely manner (including the six-month grace period) will result in a cancellation of the mark; once a mark is canceled, it cannot be revived or reinstated. If the owner wishes to reinstate the mark, he/she must file a brand-new trademark application.

In addition to filing a §8 between the fifth and sixth anniversary of registration, an owner may choose to file a §15 Declaration of Incontestability, which is not required but gives the owner the benefits of incontestability. The §15 Declaration serves as conclusive evidence of the validity of the registered mark, of the registration of the mark,  of the owner’s ownership of the mark and the owner’s exclusive rights to use the mark with the goods or services, as stated by the USPTO.

The §15 Declaration of Incontestability may be filed at any time after the fifth year of registration so long as: No final legal decision has been issued against the mark, there is no challenge to the mark pending and the mark has not become generic.

Since the date to file the §8 and the first availability to file the §15 coincide, they may be filed together. The §15 affidavit gives a registrant the status of incontestability. Once incontestable, a registration can only be challenged for invalidity based on limited grounds: (1) the registration or the incontestable right to use the mark was obtained by fraud, (2) the registrant abandoned the mark, (3) the mark is used to misrepresent the source of its goods or services, (4) the infringing mark is an individual’s name used in his/her own business, or is otherwise prohibited or reserved under the Lanham Act, (5) the infringing mark was used in commerce first – prior to the incontestable mark’s registration,  (6) the infringing mark was registered first,  (7) the mark is being used to violate the antitrust laws of the United States, (8) the mark lacks the strength or scope of protection necessary to avoid a likelihood of confusion, (9) the mark is functional in nature or (10) any equitable principles apply, including acquiescence, estoppel or laches. Throughout the life of a registration, the owner must continue to enforce his/her registration rights.

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