The Trademark Modernization of 2020 (“TMA”) was signed into law on December 27, 2020, as part of the COVID-19 relief and government funding bill. It will be fully implemented and take effect on December 27, 2021. TMA brought some remarkable changes to the United States Trademark Act of 1946, a.k.a. the Lanham Act, that will significantly affect brand owners in the U.S.

TMA Codifies Rules for the “Letters of Protest” Practice

There has been a long-standing yet not well-known practice of the USPTO, called the “letter of protest,” which allows third parties to submit evidence to the USPTO prior to registration, regarding a trademark’s registrability. Before the TMA, the USPTO did not have a formal process in place for submitting or reviewing these letters of protest, and it has resulted in the underutilization of this process. The TMA formalizes this letter of protest process for submitting evidence against pending third-party trademark applications by giving it statutory authority. The letter of protest submissions must identify each legal ground for an examining attorney to refuse registration or issue a requirement, include evidence that supports those grounds, and a concise description for each piece of supporting evidence. Following the passage of the TMA, the USPTO issued rules setting out the letter of protest procedures and a $50.00 fee for these submissions that went into effect on January 2, 2021. TMA requires the USPTO to act on submissions of letters of protest within two months of receipt. 

The codified letter of protest process under the TMA provides third-parties with a simpler and cheaper procedure compared to the traditional opposition procedure, which limits third parties believing that they may be damaged by the federal registration of a mark to file an opposition during a 30-day opposition period occurring just before registration of the mark in question and pay the expensive opposition filing fees (increased to $600.00 per class from $400.00 this year).

  • Takeaway: Any brand owner now may use this simpler and inexpensive formal process to attempt to intervene in a third-party application for a trademark that may conflict with your mark, or that you believe should otherwise be refused registration, by asking the USPTO to consider evidence that it may not otherwise have in the examination record. On the other hand, the letter of protest process may also be disadvantageous to some brand owners by making it more difficult to secure a trademark registration. To help make the most of this new process, brand owners should consider setting up trademark watch services that alert the brand owner to pending applications for marks that may conflict with the brand owner’s mark.

TMA Enables the USPTO to Shorten Office Action Response Deadlines to Anywhere Between 2 Months and 6 Months

In order to free the USPTO trademark register from numerous illegitimate trademark applications that are not actually used in the U.S. commerce, TMA gives the USPTO the authority to set office action response periods that are shorter than the current six-month response time, but not less than 60 days from the Office Action issuance date. If needed, the applicant may request to extend the shortened response deadline to up to six months.

  • Takeaway: Brand owners now must pay special attention to the actual response deadline upon receipt of an Office Action, as we may start seeing much shorter response periods than the six-month response deadline that we are used to.

TMA Creates New Ex Parte Expungement and Reexamination Proceedings as New Methods for Seeking Cancellation of a Third-party Trademark Registration

Before the passage of the TMA, the USPTO permits inter-parte Cancellation proceedings that are similar to court litigation against trademark registrations, which occur before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). There are a number of grounds on which someone may petition to cancel a third-party registration, including the registration owner’s abandonment or lack of use of the registered mark in interstate commerce.  

TMA provides a new post-registration procedure for ex parte expungement of certain improperly granted registrations. Specifically, it allows anyone to petition the USPTO to expunge a registration, either in whole or in part, where there are specific goods or services listed in the registration for which the trademark has never been used in U.S. commerce. This new procedure must be brought between three to ten years after the registration date.

On the other hand, a reexamination proceeding may be initiated against a registration any time before the fifth year following the registration date for any registration based on use in commerce. The new trademark reexamination procedure provides a process for challenging registrations based upon a false, but not necessarily fraudulent, declaration of the mark’s use in association with the goods and services identified in the registration. When preparing a trademark application, applicants often include many (or all) of the goods and services that fall within the “class” of goods or services initially selected by the applicant. Trademark applicants often try to include as many goods and services as possible under the same class because their filing fee covers the registration of a mark under the entire class. However, this practice violates the spirit of the law, which requires actual use of the mark in association with each good or service identified in the registration. To rectify the proliferation of overzealous registrations resulting from this practice, TMA’s reexamination procedure allows for the cancellation from the registration, each good or service with which the mark was not being used as of the filing date of the mark’s declaration of use.

For both the Ex Parte Expungement and Reexamination proceedings, the USPTO’s decision to cancel a registration is appealable, and these proceedings may be initiated against registrations that registered before or after enactment of the TMA.

  • Takeaway: It is critical for brand owners to make sure that they actually provide all the goods and services listed in their trademark registrations, or be exposed to the risk of losing part or all of their registrations for lack of use in commerce.

TMA Restores the Rebuttable Presumption of Irreparable Harm for Plaintiffs Seeking Injunctive Relief in Trademark Infringement Cases.

Before TMA, in order for a trademark infringement plaintiff to obtain a court-ordered injunction against a defendant to stop the defendant from continuing to use the disputed mark, the plaintiff must prove several elements, including that the plaintiff will be irreparably harmed without the injunction. In recent years, the federal circuit courts in the United States have been split on whether the irreparable harm element should be presumed in trademark infringement cases where the court has found either infringement (for a permanent injunction) or that the plaintiff is likely to be successful on the merits of its infringement claim (for a preliminary injunction).

The TMA resolves the circuit split by codifying into law that trademark infringement plaintiffs shall be entitled to a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm without the injunction upon a finding of trademark infringement or likelihood of success on the merits, depending on whether the plaintiff is seeking a permanent or preliminary injunction.

  • Takeaway: Brand owners now have a reduced evidentiary burden for obtaining injunctive relief to protect their trademark rights. A brand owner who proves infringement will enjoy a favorable legal presumption that the harm caused by continued infringement will be irreparable.

If you need help with registering a new trademark with the USPTO, contact us today to discuss your trademark protection strategies with an experienced trademark attorney. Schedule an appointment with us to schedule a free initial consultation! 

As the novel coronavirus spreads around the world, a chaotic market for N95/KN95 masks, Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) such as gloves, thermometers, ventilators, hospital beds, testing kits, hazmat suits, hand sanitizer, goggles and other desperately sought-after medical supplies vital to the fight against COVID-19 has sprung up.

 

Numerous brokers or businesses around the world have joined the gold rush for this year’s most sought-after commodities. Urgent late-night inspections at mask factories, hurried million-dollar wire transfers to secure PPEs, and more. In this frenzied, pandemic-driven market, many different types of commercial agreements are involved. Entrepreneurs in international commodity trading, especially bulk commodities, often come across documents like Non-circumvention, Non-disclosure Agreements (“NCNDA”), International Master Fee Protection Agreement (“IMFPA”), Commission Agreements, and other documents. However, the legitimacy and protection these documents afford are yet to be determined.

 

What are NCNDAs and Why You Should Consult an Attorney Before Signing One

 

An NCNDA is an agreement that is commonly used in the preliminary stages of a business transaction where the seller and buyer do not know each other but are brought into contact with each other by one or more intermediaries or brokers to fulfill the transaction. The purpose of such agreement is to ensure that (1) the intermediaries or brokers who brought the buyer and seller together are not by-passed and (2) the information disclosed during the negotiations is not revealed to any external or unauthorized party. These agreements are usually valid for a specified term.

 

In this frenzied market, as the manufacturers making these desperately sought-after medical supplies are making huge profits by supplying bulk commodities to whoever can pay the most and pay fastest, a strong and well-drafted NCNDA is vital to anyone involved in these deals to protect their interests and ensure that they are not circumvented.

 

Some key terms of an NCNDA include:

  1. Non-Circumvention Clause, which is used to prevent the contracting parties from cutting each other on any businesses covered in the agreement. A clear definition of the covered business is critical.
  2. Non-Disclosure Clause, which aims to protect any information the contracting parties intend to be held confidential. A good NCNDA will need clear language to ensure important information that the party wants to prevent from disclosure are covered.
  3. Term, which defines how long the NCNDA will run.

 

Navigating this chaotic, “Wild West” PPE market can seem daunting. It is always helpful to enlist the assistance of a professional business attorney. At Carbon Law Group, with our extensive experience in providing legal guidance to businesses in contracting and negotiation, we are confident that we can serve as strong legal support for your business. Find out how Carbon Law Group can help you protect your intellectual property rights by scheduling a meeting with us using this link.

 

We can help with:

  • Reviewing Contracts
  • Drafting strong NDAs and Non-circumvent Agreements
  • Answering compliance questions
  • Due Diligence
  • Paymaster Services

Today’s workplace has become increasingly regulated and complex. Employers have started to recognize the importance of complying with misclassification statutes, and are trying to educate their executives on the process.

In determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, courts in California generally apply the common law test under which the employer’s right to control the manner and means by which the employee’s work is accomplished, rather than the amount of control actually exercised, is the principal factor in assessing whether a plaintiff is an employee or an independent contractor.

On September 18, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”) into law. Thus, California businesses will soon face new challenges in their use of independent contractors. AB5 raised the bar for companies that otherwise might rely on freelance or contract workers. The new law establishes stricter criteria, known as the “ABC test”, to maintain a worker as an independent contractor. Specifically, a business must prove that:

  1. The worker is free from the company’s control.
  2. The duties performed by the worker are not central to the company’s core business.
  3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established business, trade, or industry.

Workers that do not satisfy all three criteria will be reclassified as employees, which could allow them to start earning a minimum wage and qualify for overtime pay, paid sick leave, and health insurance benefits.

AB5 is landmark legislation for gig economy workers and employers in California. Yet, the passing of AB5 does not mean that gig economy workers in California who were categorized as independent contractors are now automatically employees. They will still need to challenge their employers in court to apply the ABC test and reclassify them. 

If you need help with your questions about employee and independent contractor categorization, feel free to schedule a consultation with an attorney using this link or calling our office at 323.543.4453.

As the Earth completes another rotation around the Sun, we take pause to both reflect on all that has happened over this last year and to make sure we are on the right path to where we want to go.

Guided by our mission statement to empower our community by providing invaluable business and legal solutions to help our clients and community thrive, we are lucky to say 2018 was a great success. Some of our highlights from 2018 were:

  • Filed our first IPO for a client
  • Set up a $25 million venture fund
  • Advised companies and investors on 23 private placement transactions
  • Handled 12 M&A transactions
  • Guided over 20 startups with early-stage financing
  • Filed over 75 domestic and international trademark applications
  • Formed or wound-up over 100 businesses
  • Counseled over 300 individuals and businesses
  • Received 41 5-star reviews from both Google and Yelp combined
  • Held a volunteer event to feed the homeless with assistance from the Azusa Lighthouse Mission in DTLA

To say we have had a busy year would be an understatement. And it couldn’t have been accomplished without the trust and support of our amazing clients who we have the honor of serving as they strive to make a small dent in the universe (in the words of Steve Jobs.).

We are beyond grateful for the support we saw in 2018, but more so, we are excited for what is in store for 2019. We are poised to take on even larger deals, expand to new cities, and help more clients see greater success than they ever imagined.

Here is to a wonderful 2018 and an even better 2019!

Upward and onward!

 

Sincerely,

Carbon Law Group

Pankaj, Hayk, Lyris, Sarine, George, Cristal, and Sunny

Does your business involve the cultivation, distribution, transportation, research, or sale of marijuana? If so, the newly passed Measure M will have an impact on your business operations. Whether your business is a new venture or an existing marijuana business licensed under the now replaced Proposition D, you will need to make sure your business complies with the latest regulations that will unfold as the city takes on regulating the rapidly growing marijuana industry. This will be a difficult task because Measure M brings a level of uncertainty to the industry given how vague the proposition actually is. While it clearly lays out a new tax structure for marijuana companies, the actual business regulations are still to be determined. The proposition specifically gives the City Council and the Mayor the power to create a new regulatory framework AFTER citizen input, meaning that specific regulations will be developed and adopted over the course of time after a series of public hearings. No one can predict all the issues that will unfold in the market place, or what will be brought up in these hearings. Thus, it’s of the utmost importance that marijuana companies start off by ensuring their licenses and business activities are in line with current laws (majority are not) so that as these new regulations roll out over the course of the next year, getting the proper licenses and complying with the new laws will be a much easier process.

 

Compliance with upcoming regulations is especially important because the measure establishes serious civil penalties for violations. Penalties include fines, nuisance abatement, and even authorizing the Department of Water and Power to turn off the utilities of noncompliant businesses. Finding the right attorney to help you navigate through this period of evolving state and county regulations will ensure you are your business are taken care of.

 

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