Anecdotally, post-registration Office Actions have been on the rise. TM TKO took a look at the numbers to (a) see if this is a real trend as opposed to just a perceived one and (b) to figure out what the key issues driving these Office Actions are.
Are Post-Registration Office Actions Increasing?
Yes, they are. The Office is on pace to issue 1.5 times as many post-registration Office Actions in 2020 vs 2019. The increase has been significant in recent years; there are going to be 2.5x as many post-registration Office Actions in 2020 as in 2016.
2020: 30,827 (Jan-Sept. 20, 2020)
2020 pace: 42,782
What Issues are Driving Post-Registration Office Actions in 2020?
We have broken down some of the most common issues. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch, just those that seemed to be popping up often in spot-checks.
Website Specimen issues
The largest single issue, with over 15,000 refusals, were issues with a post-registration specimen not showing a URL or date of access/printing for a website. Show them both or include an affidavit from the person who printed the website to avoid the refusal.
Approximately 6,000 of the post-registration Office Actions were random audits. Audits are roughly on pace from 2019, but way up from 2018. We took an in-depth look at post-registration audits and their success in paring back trademark registry deadwood earlier this year; read more in our blog post. Make sure you double-check that the mark is in use on all goods or services – even if you have instructions from your client of foreign counsel – to avoid having to trim back your registration or even the (outside) risk of disciplinary issues.
“Normal” Specimen Issues
About 5,000 Office Actions raised “normal” specimen refusals — the specimen didn’t show the goods or services in question, or wasn’t legible, or the like. The Office isn’t great about clearly labeling specimen refusals, so this count probably has the widest error bars. Submitting good specimens in general is far beyond the scope of this blog post.
Requirements that a new owner “establish its ownership” of a mark are quite common, resulting in over 1,300 Office Actions in 2020. These run a mix of situations: the Section 8 affidavit was filed by a new company, the Section 8 was filed by an old registrant, the chain of title had some random discrepancy that is finally coming to light, or all the same sorts of issues with a Section 7 request.
Bar info requests are quite common, generating over 3,000 requests. The post-registration forms aren’t great about forcing post-registration attorneys update old records — and generally discourage mass updates in large portfolios — so these refusals are popping up a lot.
Substitute specimens in a post-registration filing require a $100 deficiency fee. This is a bit hard to count, because some of the same language is used to say that a fee is required or to say that it isn’t, but it looks like this generated ~350+ refusals. This deficiency fee does not necessarily apply to clarifications about website print dates. Anyway, exercising a lot of care in providing the initial specimens can avoid this issue arising in the first place.
There have only about fifty of these in 2020. That is no great surprise, since excusable non-use claims are pretty rare to begin with. Just know that if you’re going to submit an excusable non-use claim, there is a decent chance that you will get asked for more information anyway, so you might consider submitting a detailed affidavit from the client from the outset.
Update your older registrations with your bar info during or prior to filing a Section 7, 8, or 9 document, make sure a URL and date and in your website screenshots, and make sure that the entity that auto-populates in the form is actually the same as the most recent owner in the Assignments tab, and your chances of getting a post-registration Office Action will drop by a quite lot.