The USPTO is currently examining new applications at a much slower clip than their historical norm. Rather than expected initial examination within about 3 months of filing, now, by the Office’s own data, it’s at least 7.5 months. That time is probably overly optimistic, since a new application filed today faces an extra 7.5 months of backlog between it and first examination.
The Paris Convention provides US applicants 6 months in which to file internationally and claim the benefit of their US application, and this ends up being a de facto filing deadline for many applications filed via the Madrid Protocol. Applications filed through the Madrid Protocol provide substantial benefits to applicants, including comparatively cheap filings and convenient renewals and assignments. However, registrations issued via Madrid are dependent on the registrant’s home country application(s) or registration(s) for 5 years.
As we know, clients do not always select marks with completely clear paths towards registration. Since it’s now taking way longer for applications to receive an initial examination than the 6 months provided by the Paris Convention, what’s an applicant to do? File via Madrid with some uncertainty? File direct in-country applications?
The USPTO does have a mechanism to accelerate examination. A Petition to Make Special costs $250; if granted, it moves an application to the front of the line for examination. Per TMEP § 1710 – 1711:
A petition to make “special” must be accompanied by: (1) the fee required by 37 C.F.R. §2.6; (2) an explanation of why special action is requested; and (3) a statement of facts that shows that special action is justified. The statement of facts should be supported by an affidavit or declaration under 37 C.F.R. §2.20.
Invoking supervisory authority under 37 C.F.R. §2.146 to make an application “special” is an extraordinary remedy that is granted only when very special circumstances exist, such as a demonstrable possibility of the loss of substantial rights. A petition to make “special” is denied when the circumstances would apply equally to a large number of other applicants.
The most common reasons for granting petitions to make “special” are the existence of actual or threatened infringement, pending litigation, or the need for a registration as a basis for securing a foreign registration.
The Office provides minimal guidance on when Petitions will be refused.
The fact that the applicant is about to embark on an advertising campaign is not considered a circumstance that justifies advancement of an application out of the normal order of examination, because this situation applies to a substantial number of applicants.
The “need for a registration as a basis for securing a foreign registration” is close, but it’s not quite what we need here. You technically don’t need a US registration to survive the Madrid pendency period, provided that you can stall out an application at the USPTO long enough. What we want the quick US examination for is really certainty.
Seeing how these requests turn out is a perfect job for TM TKO’s prosecution research tools. Go to Search and then Office Action, and we can look for documents that have both the phrases “Petition to Make Special” and “Madrid Protocol.”
This finds more than 75 documents. Some of these relate to Petition attachments that use relevant keywords, so we then tweak the search to screen those out, and end up with about 65.
|Petition Decision Year||Granted*||Denied|
What’s up with the refusals in 2021? These start in July 2021, and the refusals all have some variation of the following:
Petitioner states within the application the need to secure a foreign registration for the above mark. Petitioner omitted the required supporting evidence, e.g., proof showing that a foreign intellectual property office requires a U.S. trademark registration in order to submit a trademark application in that country (…) from the petition.
This is fairly wild. None of the prior petitions from 2015 – 2021 had any evidence whatsoever, and some of these were filed by the exact same attorney using the same request text that had been granted before, and granted dozens of times. It’s dumb that a Petitioner would need to provide — what, a copy of an excerpt of the Madrid Protocol text?? — to the Office for the Office to recognize that the Protocol requires a home country app/reg for the dependency, since the USPTO’s own rules enforce that exact same requirement. Nevertheless, that’s apparently exactly what applicants out to do going forward.