The Supreme Court held in Matal v. Tam that the Lanham Act’s provision forbidding the registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The Court explained that “[s]peech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
The public comments have been considered and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rule changes proposed in April 2016 and summarized in this blog post have been confirmed with only minor exceptions. The new rules will be effective on January 14, 2017, and will apply to all opposition and cancellation proceedings active on that date or subsequently filed.
There is a September 23, 2016 deadline for clarifying product or service specification wording within European trademark registrations in certain situations where that is necessary.
Trademark registration products and services are categorized by almost all commercially relevant national trademark registries around the world, including the U.S. and the E.U., into 45 International Classes (Classes). These Classes are used for administrative (particularly fee-charging) purposes. Also, to varying degrees depending upon the jurisdiction, Classes play a role in defining the parameters of trademark rights. For years there had been an understanding under E.U. trademark law that where an E.U. trademark registration covers so-called “Class heading” language, i.e., brief language that roughly summarizes the subject matter of a given Class, the registration is deemed to cover all of the more specific subject matter of the Class.
On April 4, 2016 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that details proposed changes to the USPTO’s rules of practice for trademark application opposition and registration cancellation proceedings. Public comments are due by June 3, 2016. While it is possible that the rules will be modified further before being finalized based upon public comment, it is likely that the rules ultimately will take effect substantially in the form published.
The European Union’s (EU) trademark regulations are undergoing a significant overhaul as of March 23, 2016. For starters, the terminology is changing: the title “Community Trade Mark” or “CTM,” will be replaced by “European Union Trade Mark,” or “EUTM.”
There are more changes than can be fully summarized within the scope of this blog post. Here are three changes in particular that brand owners should be mindful of:
On December 22nd the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued its sua sponte en banc In re Tam decision regarding the constitutionality of the “disparaging” marks bar under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. A Federal Circuit panel previously upheld a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the TTAB) decision affirming the refusal under the disparaging marks provision of Section 2(a) of a trademark application for the mark "THE SLANTS." Would a “substantial composite” of Asians find the phrase THE SLANTS disparaging? The answer was “yes”, as detailed in our earlier blog posting on this case. Judge Moore, writing for the Federal Circuit panel in initially affirming the appeal decision, however, raised the question as to whether the court should consider the constitutionality issues about the registration standard raised by Mr. Tam on an en banc basis. Her peers agreed to do so.
Summary: It is rare that legal decisions are reported on by “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” but that is exactly what happened when the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia affirmed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision to cancel six trademark registrations owned by Pro-Football, Inc., which does business as The Washington Redskins. The marks were canceled on the basis that the marks “may disparage” a “substantial composite” of Native Americans. However, does a ruling based on these grounds fly in the face of the First Amendment? An upcoming decision by an en banc Federal Circuit may soon tell us when it determines whether an Asian-American band is allowed to register the trademark “THE SLANTS” for entertainment in the nature of live performances by a musical band.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.