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Trademark Priority: First-in-time, first-in-right . . . but not always.

When two businesses offer the same or similar products or services under the same or confusingly similar mark, the first question is who has superior trademark rights. Superior rights go to the user with “priority,” a term of art in trademark law. In the U.S., with some exceptions, priority is generally determined by the first party to use a mark in commerce. But, determining who first used the mark in commerce is not necessarily straightforward, because it can relate specifically to the date of first use, but also the geographical extent of use, whether one business has filed an intent-to-use application (discussed below), or whether one business already owns a federal trademark registration. Below we discuss the some of factors that impact trademark priority through hypothetical scenarios. Scenario 1 – Common Law User v. Common Law User: July 4, 2018  ABC LLC starts selling balloons under the brand BLOOMERS throughout California. July 6, 2018  XYZ LLC starts selling balloons under the brand BLOOMERS throughout Illinois. Common law (unregistered) rights are granted to the first user of a particular mark in commerce; however, common law rights are limited to the specific geographic area in which the products are sold or services are offered. In this set of circumstances, beginning on July 4, 2018, ABC developed common law rights in California, and beginning on July 6, 2018, XYZ developed common law rights in Illinois. Both are senior users within their separate territories. Though ABC started using the mark first, its rights in California do not extend into Illinois, and XYZ’s rights do not extend into California. This means that ABC could...

2018 Farm Bill: Registering Trademarks & Distribution of Hemp Products

On December 20, 2018, President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (“2018 Farm Bill”), which marked a monumental shift in federal policy towards cannabis. So, what changed? Significantly, the 2018 Farm Bill defines “hemp” as the Cannabis Sativa L. plant, any parts of the cannabis plant, and all derivatives therefrom, having a THC concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, and removes “hemp” from the CSA’s definition of marijuana. Meaning, hemp (and all that is derived from hemp) is no longer a controlled substance under the CSA. That is, all hemp with a THC content of less than 0.3% is lawful—whether sourced internationally or grown pursuant to the 2014 Farm Bill. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill expressly clarifies that commercialization and interstate transportation, as well as import and export, of hemp-derived products is federally lawful. However, the implementation date of certain aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill is unclear. While this is a huge win for the cannabis industry, the 2018 Farm Bill does not legalize all hemp-derived products everywhere in the U.S. What is still federally unlawful? Even if the CBD comes from hemp, the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (enforced by the FDA) prevents the sale of products containing CBD that are for ingestion, unless they have undergone the FDA’s drug approval process. The FDA’s limitation applies specifically to ingestible products, e.g., supplements, oral sprays, edibles, and tinctures. Meaning, CBD-infused topicals and vape products appear to be in the clear (at least, for now). Additionally, the FDA has and will continue to enforce against companies selling CBD products that claim...

Overview: Likelihood of Confusion

Likelihood of consumer confusion is the touchstone of trademark law and determining whether there is infringement, which is the unauthorized use of a mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source or sponsorship of the goods and/or services. Whether there is a likelihood of confusion is assessed by considering a number of factors, which vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Below we discuss the factors evaluated by the Ninth Circuit: Similarity of the Marks: Confusion may arise primarily as a result of the mental associations conjured by the appearance of two marks, considering the marks in terms of sight, sound, and commercial meaning. Sight – the visual impression created by the mark as a whole. Consumers generally have imperfect memories and changing one or two letters in a mark generally will not avoid a likelihood of confusion. Further, where the mark is comprised of multiple terms, the dominant feature, often the most distinctive term of the mark, is entitled to more weight. Sound – the similarities in pronunciation. This is particularly important where brands are often verbally discussed. We note that the correct pronunciation is not the issue, but whether purchasers pronounce the word in the same or a similar manner. Meaning – the closeness of the commonly understood meaning or dictionary definitions of the marks. Strength of Mark: All trademarks are not created equal; some marks are more distinctive than others. Marks can be strong or weak. Made-up (fanciful) marks like Exxon® and Kodak®, and arbitrary marks, such as Apple®, are the strongest. Arbitrary...

Brands vs. Company Names

Since there are different rules for trademarks and business names you must be aware of when you are referring to the brand versus the company/trade name. When using the name to refer to the company, the company name can and should be used as a proper noun, rather than as an adjective. You may also make the company name possessive. In contrast, when you are using your trademark, it should be used as an adjective, and not as a noun. Correct as a business name: Evoke Law is attending the upcoming MJBiz conference in Las Vegas. Correct as a trademark: Evoke Law® legal services focus on trademark and copyright protection. Incorrect as a trademark: Evoke Law® is located in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. A trademark functions as a source-identifier of “who” provides the goods/services, not an identifier of “what” the goods/services is. In the correct use shown above, our mark is used correctly as a source identifier for legal services to identify who is providing the services. In the incorrect use above, the reference to “Evoke Law” is to the company, not the mark, and use of the ® symbol is incorrect. The ‘Brand Test’ for Determining Trademark Use One helpful method for determining whether the use requires a “TM,” “®,” or no symbol at all is to orally insert the word ‘brand’ between the suspected mark and the noun. For example, the Evoke Law® “brand” legal services is proper trademark use and the “®” designation is appropriate (because we own a federally registered trademark for legal services, along with a federal registration for the logo mark...

Guest Blog: The “Green Rush” to Register Cannabis Trademarks in Canada

Guest authors John H. Simpson & Shan Arora of Shift Law discuss the current landscape of cannabis trademark applications in Canada. On October 17, 2018, the sale of recreational cannabis became legal in Canada and the “green rush” to profit from the industry is on. For many months, industry players have been hurrying to stake claims to market share and to various forms of intellectual property rights in recreational cannabis products and services. However, when it comes to selecting and protecting cannabis-related brand names, in reality, the “green rush” has become a game of hurry up and wait. Currently, there are approximately 2200 trademark applications pending in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) with claims for cannabis or cannabis-related goods or services that have yet to be examined. This backlog of applications is partly responsible for the increasingly lengthy processing time for Canadian trademark applications. It is now taking more than 12 months for a first examiner’s report on a trademark application and the total time from filing to registration is now about 18-24 months. The vast majority of these applications were filed prior to legalization on the basis of “proposed use,” meaning the applicant has not yet used the mark with the applied-for goods or services as of the filing date. Filing proposed use applications is a wise strategy. During examination at the CanadianTrademark Office, as in the U.S., the first person to file an application has priority over subsequently filed confusingly similar proposed use trademarks. The examination considers all trademark applications for a likelihood of confusion with trademarks in prior-filed applications and registrations. At the outset, the...