Are Post-Registration Audits Reducing Trademark Registry Deadwood?

Some conversation on the Oppendhal e-Trademarks listserv got us curious about the big-picture impact of the USPTO’s efforts to more aggressively audit post-registration use claims. The audit program kicked off in November 2017, and is described here. The program has been somewhat active, generating just over 12,000 Office Actions in roughly two years.

  • 2017: 798
  • 2018: 2,154
  • 2019: 5,926
  • 2020 (so far): 1,009

Audits of 1(a) registrations are slowly climbing, from 67% in 2017 to 75% in 2020; 44(e) and mixed 44(e) and 1(a) audits have remained a fairly constant 5% and 1.5% respectively, and 66(a) audits have actually dropped slightly from around 21% to around 15% of audits. Compared to overall numbers of registrations, though, registrations without 1(a) claims still get a lot more attention – both 44(e) registrations without 1(a) claims and 66(a) registrations are audited at a rate roughly twice their commonality in the registry since 2007.

Only about 550 registrations that received a post-registration audit are no longer active at all. A further 470-some registrations had audits and have fewer classes now than initially, but it’s far more complex than a blog post deserves to figure out exactly when during prosecution or post-registration each class dropped.

Since it’s hard to track whether individual goods or classes are dropped after an audit in a systematic manner, we did the next best thing and looked at a couple of random examples. Whatever the problems are with the methodology, the anecdotal research ended up being more fun anyway. The first two foreign-based registrations that I picked without a 1(a) registration basis were dramatically pared back, well beyond the audited goods or services; the two 1(a) registrations I happened to look at ended up providing additional specimens and their scope remained exactly the same. All the registrants were represented. I’m sure this stark divide would not continue over a larger sample size, and that some US-registrant-owned registrations are being sliced back quite a bit, too, but the dramatic nature of the difference really stuck out.

Example #1

MAYBANK (stylized). Reg: 4442149. Malayan Banking Berhad (Malaysian company). 44(e) registration. Class 16 and 36.

An Office Action audit requesting proof of use for “bond paper” and “plastic wrap” in Cl. 16 and “insurance claims processing” and “issuing travelers cheques” in Cl. 36. The audit prompted a response on far more than just the audited goods and services – the registrant filed a Response deleting huge swathes of goods and services, including the audited goods and more. Of the 223 words for which use was claimed in the Section 8 & 15 filing, 24 words remained after the audit process.

Paper, cardboard and goods made from these materials, not included in other classes, namely, bond paper, copier paper, graph paper, note paper, cardboard; brochures about financial services; catalogues in the field of financial services; leaflets about financial services; magazines in the field of financial services; packaging and wrapping paper of cardboard and paper; plastic wrap; plastic bags for packaging; pamphlets in the field of financial services; printed periodicals in the field of financial services; printed matters, namely, paper signs, books, manuals, curriculum, newsletters, informational cards and brochures in the field of financial services; paper articles, namely, written articles in the field of financial services; printed materials for advertising and promotional purposes, namely, printed advertising boards of paper and cardboard; paper banners; signs for advertising and display purposes, namely, printed advertising boards of paper and cardboard, paper display boxes, and display cards primarily composed of cardboard; stationery; forms, namely, blank forms, business forms, and order forms; writing pads; office requisites in the nature of pens; pencils, pens, and pencil holders in International Class 16; and
Banking; credit card services; financial evaluation, namely, financial evaluation for insurance purposes; exchanging money; financing services; investments, namely, investment brokerage, investment management, investment of funds of others; insurance, namely, insurance agency and brokerage, insurance administration, insurance claims processing; guarantees, namely, cheque guarantee card services, financial guarantee and surety services; cheque verification; issuing travelers cheques in International Class 36.

Example #2

SPANISH BREAKFAST (stylized). Reg. No. 4290593. 66(a) registration. OrganizaciĆ³n Interprofesional del Aceitede Oliva EspaƱol. Class 16, 29, 35.

Audit Office Action requesting samples of use for “postage stamps” and “pen nibs” in Class 16 and “rental of advertising space” and “services, namely, offering business management assistance in the establishment and operation of olive oil sales” in Class 35. Class 29 was not audited; the Section 8 & 15 filing already included a specimen for the sole product in that class, olive oil. The Office Action Response deleted all the audited goods and services, and quite a bit more. Of the 229 words in the ID for which a Section 8 & 15 were filed, only 59 words survived the audit process.

Books, publications, periodicals, magazines, catalogs, prospectuses, and printed matter all in the field of promoting the consumption of olive oil; newspapers; printed forms; calendars; printed tickets, posters, notebooks, note cards, envelopes and writing paper, letter trays, wrapping paper; printed matter, namely, brochures in the field of promoting the consumption of olive oil; bookbinding material; photographs, pictures, chromolithographs, paper labels; postage stamps; graphic art reproductions and representations; stationery; pen nibs, ball-point pens, pencils; adhesives for stationery or household purposes; instructional and teaching materials in the field of promoting the consumption of olive oil; plastic materials for packing, namely, plastic bags for packing; printing type; printing blocks in International Class 16

Wholesale and retail store services featuring olive oil; import and export agencies, advertising services, namely, promoting the goods and services of others; exclusive commercial and sales representation for all kinds of products, namely, promotional marketing and representation services for sale of olive oil; advertising services; dissemination of advertising matter and rental of advertising space; distributing prospectuses, directly or by mail order, and distribution of samples; business services, namely, commercial or industrial company operation or management assistance services; franchise services, namely, offering business management assistance in the establishment and operation of olive oil sales; advisor services and consultation in business management namely, business organization, business estimates, business reports and research in business matters, market studies, business information agency and import and export agencies in International Class 35

Example #3

DISNEY JUNIOR (stylized). Reg. No. 4094327. 1(a) registration. Class 41.

Audit Office Action requesting samples of use for “production, presentation, distribution of television programs” and “on-line entertainment services, namely, providing on-line computer games.” The Office Action Response provided several additional specimens for each. No services were deleted.

Example #4

ILLINOIS INDUSTRIAL TOOL. Reg. No. 3605472. 1(a) registration. Class 6, 7, 8, 9, 17, 22.

Audit Office Action requesting samples of use requesting use for a pair of goods in each class. The Office Action Response included a declaration from an executive and photos of each audited product; no goods were deleted.

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