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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...

CBD Roundup: Updates at the USPTO, Rescheduling, & More

Evoke Law Persuades USPTO to Register Trademark for CBD from Hemp Products Mid-2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) started emphatically refusing trademark registration for marks covering products containing CBD from industrial hemp. Previously, it seemed that so long as the applicant confirmed that the CBD was derived from industrial hemp that was internationally sourced and contained no more than 0.3% THC, the USPTO would grant registration. But last year, the USPTO changed its stance and required that the source of the CBD be from only the parts of the plant excluded under the CSA’s definition of “marihuana,” namely the mature stalks and seeds, without commingling with other resinous parts of the cannabis plant. But here’s the catch – the USPTO took the position that there are no commercially appreciable amounts of CBD in mature hemp stalks, and therefore rejected the declaration from the applicant’s supplier of the hemp biomass expressly confirming that the source of the CBD was exclusively derived from the mature stalks without commingling of resin. With the support and assistance of technical advisor, Sanford Wolgel, Phd., and expert testimony from Jake Stout, Phd., Evoke Law provided the USPTO with irrefutable scientific evidence that the mature stalks do indeed produce CBD in appreciable quantities without the commingling from other plant parts, including any ‘resinous’ secretions. And the application is now moving forward to registration. DEA Reschedules (Some) CBD On September 21, 2018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it was rescheduling certain drugs containing cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule 1 to Schedule 5. This action comes on the heels of the FDA approving the...

International Trademark Protection

Trademark protection outside of the U.S. can be important for a number of reasons. You should at least consider filing for trademark protection internationally if your sales, distribution, and/ or manufacturing position is as follows: You conduct business in another country You plan conduct business in another country You manufacture, distribute, and/or advertise in another country A country of future interest is known for counterfeiting or intellectual property infringement Your products come into contact with nationals from another country, e.g., through tourism Owning trademark registrations outside of the U.S. may be the only means of enforcing trademark rights. Unlike the U.S., many countries recognize trademark rights based on the first-to-file, rather than the first-to-use. Additionally, most international countries do not require use of a mark prior to issuing a registration; meaning, you can effectively reserve your brand name for 3-5 years (depending on the country), when a registration could become vulnerable for non-use. Keep in mind, if you file international applications in most other countries within 6 months of the filing date of a U.S. application, your international applications may obtain the filing date of the U.S. application for priority. This is because the U.S. is party to the Paris Convention treaty, which allows applicants to obtain their U.S. filing date as the priority date in many foreign countries that are also parties to the Paris treaty. There are two main ways to apply to register a trademark and obtain international protection: (1) filing an application through the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), aka “Madrid system,” based on a prior-filed U.S. application/registration, or (2) filing a “national application” directly through a country’s trademark office. A third...

Trademark Watch Services

If you don’t want to conduct a search for your company on the Internet and suddenly discover a competitor operating under a similar name, proactive enforcement efforts can provide peace of mind that the value of your company’s trademarks is being preserved. Moreover, it is the duty of a mark owner to enforce exclusive rights in a mark, or jeopardize the enforceability of the mark in the future. Unchallenged third-party uses of a trademark weakens the strength of your company’s mark as a source identifier. A trademark watch service is an effective monitoring tool to efficiently identify potentially infringing adoption of confusingly similar marks. Evoke Law partners with Corsearch, a leading vendor of trademark clearance and protection services, to offer a wide range of watch services that fits a wide-variety of business needs. Below are descriptions of the most commonly utilized watch services: Domain Name Watch: A Domain Name Watch monitors registrations of standard top-level domain names (e.g., .com, .net, .org, .info) that include the exact mark, as well as other similar variations to catch potential typo-squatters. For example, if someone tried to register www.evokelegal.com, the watch service would alert us to this activity. Purchasing a domain is typically one of the first actions a business takes when it decides to proceed with a chosen brand name, and this watch provides somewhat of an “early warning system.” Expanded gTLD Watch: An Expanded gTLD Watch has all the capabilities of the Domain Name Watch, but also monitors registrations of generic top level domains (gTLDs) and country code top level domains (ccTLDs) for potential infringement. Using the above example, the Expanded...