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Improving the Trademark Register
Guest Blog from Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison
When selecting a mark for a new product or service, a business will search the USPTO database of registered marks to determine whether a particular mark is available. Registered trademarks that are not actually in use in commerce unnecessarily block someone else from registering the mark.
To ensure the accuracy of our trademark registry, in 2012, the USPTO launched a pilot program to gather data on whether registered marks were actually being used on the products and services listed on their registrations.
During the pilot, in 500 randomly-selected maintenance filings we required the registrant to submit proof of use for two additional items for each class listed on the registration. Although the registrant must submit one example of use per class in a maintenance filing, typically the registration will list multiple products or services for each class.
At the conclusion of the pilot, the USPTO determined that in more than half of the trademark registrations selected, the owner was unable to verify the actual use of the mark for the goods or services queried. This was in spite of the owner having recently sworn under penalty of perjury to such ongoing use as part of the maintenance filing. We issued a report on the results and held a roundtable to discuss the results and next steps. The consensus among roundtable participants was that the results of the pilot program indicated a need for some action to improve the accuracy and integrity of the register. As a result of these findings and input from the trademark community, we are now taking a three-pronged approach to tackling the so-called “deadwood” in our searchable database of registered marks.
First, we are increasing the readability of the registration declaration. We have reformatted the declaration to it make it more readable and therefore more likely for the signer to read the declaration swearing to use for each and every good or service listed.
Figure (1): Current Form
Figure (2): New Form
Second, we are planning to make the random audits of existing registrations permanent. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make our random audits program permanent published June 22 in the Federal Register. The comment period recently closed and we are now drafting a final rule.
Once implemented, attorneys representing trademark registrants will be able to make registrants aware that, in order to maintain their registrations, they may be asked to submit and prove use on more than the one item of goods or services per class. Specifically, for selected registrations, we may require submission of information, exhibits, affidavits or declarations, and additional specimens to ensure that the register accurately reflects the marks are in use in United States for all goods and services identified in registrations, unless excusable nonuse exists.
Third, we are considering proposing one or more new or revised procedures to cancel registrations for marks either no longer in use or never in use. On April 28, the Trademark Public Advisory Committee convened an executive session to discuss the possibility of a new expungement procedure as well as several streamlined Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) cancellation procedures. Preliminary meetings with various stakeholder groups continue. We are close to fully developing these concepts. Under consideration are options that include:
Ensuring the integrity of the Federal Trademark Register is of utmost importance to the USPTO. Please be on the lookout for further updates on this important topic.