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Issue-driven analysis: instantly provides you successful responses for similar marks for similar products or services to help you build on the successes of others. Pull any TSDR document in formatted PDF or plain-text format.
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Office Action and prosecution data is now integrated across our platform.
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A statement that your current Examining Attorney “is not bound by the prior decisions” of other Examining Attorneys is an invariable source of frustration to applicants and their counsel. Building off a long line of cases, most recently, In re Nett Designs, Inc., 236 F. 3d 1339, 57 USPQ2d 1564, 1566 (Fed. Cir. 2001), Examining Attorneys and the TTAB have a wide scope of discretion to ignore the prior examination decisions on highly similar facts but not quite identical records.
We ran some numbers to quantify the impact. (Sample search
strategies are below, at note 1.) Compared to the all applications,
applications where the Examining Attorney says he or she “is not bound by”
prior examination outcomes are about 5-6% more likely to have “bad” prosecution
outcomes for the applicant. Abandonment rates pre-publication and
pre-registration for 2(d) refusals were 5% higher, as were abandonments for
2(e)(1)-(4) refusals. Rates of acceptance on the Principal Register or with a
2(f) claim were also down 5-6% each.
This is highly counter-intuitive – the “is not bound by” language basically only arises in second or final Office Actions, and only comes up in situations where the applicant believes that a prior examination result (often for the same or similar mark owned by the applicant) should dictate the result of examination here. If anything, if the Office was aiming for consistency, we would expect more favorable results for applicants on this type of fact pattern.
2(d) “not bound”
2(d) – all
Registered or Published
Dropped Pre-Pub or
2(e)(1), (2), (3), or (4) “not bound”
2(e)(1), (2), (3), or (4) – all
Registered or Published –
Registered or Published –
2(f) claim or claim in part
Registered – Supplemental
Dropped Pre-Pub or
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently provided a tiny glimmer of hope amongst this entirely unnecessary fog – In re The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, Ser. Nos. 87245967, 87245971, 87245973, and 87245975 (TTAB Feb. 15, 2019), available athttp://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/ttabvue-87245967-EXA-13.pdf (non-precedential). It is non-precedential, as are far too many TTAB decisions. The Board overturned a “merely informational” refusal, essentially because the applicant had nearly a dozen registrations for its RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS mark. The Board critically held that evidence that “random acts of kindness” has lots of non-trademark uses was “previously available” even if it was not part of the formal record in prior examinations, and the Office failed to provide a “reason for its inconsistent treatment” of the present applications from the prior registrations. The Office didn’t even manage to provide a coherent reason for refusing the four applications in the appeal while letting five others that were filed on the same day go through to registration with no issues.
Some of the specific facts, like the number of registrations, are unique to the Random Acts case, but the general principle that an Examining Attorney or the Board needs to show that the sort of evidence on which they are relying for the refusal was not available as of the prior examination would, if adopted more widely, significantly shifts the burden towards encouraging more consistent examination.
It is too early to tell if the decision will have a
substantial impact, but the very earliest signs are encouraging – only two
attorneys, Paul Reidl in arguing
against a specimen-driven 2(e)(1) refusal for PLANT POWERED for pet food and Julie
Hopkins in arguing against a 2(d) refusal of SEV1TECH & Design based on two
prior registrations for SEVONE (suggesting that since a prior application for
the same mark could have been refused on the basis of those registrations was
not, a refusal for the newer application would be inappropriate), have cited to
Random Acts, and it’s too early to
tell the outcome of either.
1 Sample TM TKO search strategy to find filings that were either published or registered with a 2(f) or 2(f)-in-part claim despite getting a 2(e)(1)-(4) refusal and an Office Action with the “is not bound by” language:
Companies whose marks toe the descriptive-suggestive line can have complicated paths to “full” trademark protection on the US Principal Register. Let’s look at one what is now a well-known brand traveled the path to a strong registration portfolio – the house mark for Chipotle, the Denver-based fast Mexican chain. The company now has more than fifty active US filings, about half of which are registrations for its house mark or stylizations thereof. Andrew Roppel of Holland & Hart’s Boulder Office is the filing correspondent for the company’s US marks.
Chipotle’s first trademark registration was for CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL & Design, shown below. The full prosecution history has never been scanned by the USPTO, but the application was filed in 1994 based on use since the prior year; a registration eventually issued on the Supplemental Register in late 1995. Why did it end up on the Supplemental Register? A chipotle pepper is a dried, smoked jalapeno pepper, either used on its own or packed in a spicy adobo sauce often used in Mexican cuisine, including in some of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s own food.
The company revisited its trademark portfolio in 1998, filing for the logo above, the word mark CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL, and the word mark CHIPOTLE with 2(f) claims in 1998, eventually obtaining registrations for each in 2000. The company faced a 2(e) refusal for these re-filed applications. In response, it submitted extensive arguments arguing that CHIPOTLE was suggestive rather than descriptive, but the Office continued to refuse the mark as merely descriptive. A 2(f) claim based solely on 5 years’ use was sufficient to move forward to registration.
At the same time, the Office requested that the company disclaim CHIPOTLE and MEXICAN GRILL in the combined application. A response making a 2(f) claim and disclaimer of “Mexican Grill” overcame that issue, too.
The company’s expansion into prepared food products in 2005 generated similar issues, although, since the applicant was initially filed as an intent to use application, its 2(f) claim was initially refused on the grounds that (a) “chipotle” was more related to the applied-for foods than even restaurant services, and the distinctiveness for the prior registrations for services would not necessarily translate. The applicant was able to argue around the refusal based on the relationship between the goods and services, without having to fully paper out an evidence-based acquired distinctiveness claim. The application for CHIPOTLE alone for foods also ran into some prior-pending applications for BAJA CHIPOTLE for meat, CHIPOTLE BEEF PATTY for burgers, and CHIPOTLE for pizza, but each of them was abandoned prior to registration – the BAJA CHIPOTLE mark after an opposition by Chipotle Mexican Grill, the other two due to run of the mill prosecution inconveniences.
Chipotle has since obtained numerous registrations for variations of its house mark, all with little fuss – the 2(f) claims aren’t generating push-back from examiners any more, largely because most have probably eaten at a Chipotle restaurant at least once.
If you have a client facing a similar issue, TM TKO helps you research trademark prosecution histories, with more than ten million Office Actions and Responses that are fully searchable by issue, free-text, or any mark criteria that you can think of. Find the best examples of successful responses and evidence, mold the ideas and legal theories to your facts, and do your best work to help your clients succeed.
Here in Nashville, we’re starting to get occasional warm days (and even more occasional dry days), and spring training baseball has arrived with the warmer weather. Our local AAA team, the Nashville Sounds, has a beautiful stadium right next to downtown, and we can’t wait for the season to start.
In honor of the boys of summer, this blog post looks at the key term in team names, and how popular they are as marks not for pro baseball teams. The research looked at singular and plural forms, which probably overcounted Reds and Nationals a bit, but at least this permitted consistent methodology. The Google Books N-gram research doesn’t try to exclude baseball content in the same way, so marks like RED SOX aren’t screen for non-baseball use in the same way.
Twins, Angels, and Nationals were much more common than the median in both lists, with Rays, Athletics, Tigers, Rangers, Pirates, Reds, and Giants substantially above the median on both lists, too. The terms that had the least salience in more general brand use and Google N-gram book usage were Orioles, the two colored Sox, Astros, and Diamondbacks, with Phillies, Marlins, Dodgers, Padres, and Rockies all lower than the median on both, but less dramatically so.
Braves and Brewers were a good bit more common on the brand side than n-grams, and Cubs and Cardinals were the only terms that were noticeably more common from an n-gram perspective (versus the median) than as brands.
It’s rare that someone hasn’t enjoyed some of the writings or fictional worlds of some of the great fantasy authors, like J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling, and many more, even including the rare writer who does not use their initials as a part of their name. Let’s look to see how some of the most common tropes from “high” fantasy fiction have turned into brand names.
As it turns out, the frequency with which book authors use each of these terms, as tracked by Google Books N-Gram analysis, is very similar to the frequency with which those terms are using a trademark. On the trademark side, looked at these terms just as stand-alone words; doubtless, there are some additional uses as a part of compound or unitary marks consisting of two or more conjoined terms, but this suffices to show general trends.
Dragon and wizard led the way in both N-Gram use and trademark filings, perhaps not surprisingly. The only exceptions to the order of N-Gram usage were “dwarf,” which was underrepresented in trademark filings (perhaps out of deference to those with achondroplasia or similar conditions), and “hobbit,” which was overrepresented because The Saul Zaentz Company, which acquired some Lord of the Rings-related rights in connection with a 1978 animated film, owns a bunch (in fact, every single active registration or application for that mark) of filings in the US in connection with merchandising deals.
At TM TKO, we are really interested in prosecution trends. Today, we are going to zoom in on one type of refusal – 2(d) likelihood of confusion refusals – in one class, International Class 1. International Class 1 primarily consists of industrial chemicals and similar products.
In particular, we wanted to test out class relationships – how strong was the likelihood of getting a refusal if the prior mark was in-class, was in a coordinated class (but not in-class), or was in an “unrelated” class (not in-class and not in a coordinated class), and how likely were the refusals to “stick” and cause the application to go abandoned?
While fewer than 12% of applications filed at any time received 2(d) citations, the 2(d) citation rate jumps to about 30% from 2014 to the present. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an increasing 2(d) rate results from an increasingly crowded registry.
As for the content of the cited marks, 2(d) refusals were not quite twice as common in the same class (i.e. the prior registration had International Class 1) than in all the classes noted by the Office as “coordinated” classes combined (any of International Classes 5, 17, 35, 42, 44, A, or B). “Out-of-class” citations – all other classes except Class 1 or any coordinated classes – were surprisingly common, with slightly more “out-of-class” citations than in-class citations, and about twice the number of out-of-class citations as coordinated class citations. There are many more marks not in one of Class 1’s coordinated classes than not, of course, which may account for the difference – currently, there are some 67,000 active filings in Class 1, just short of 950,000 in Class 1 or a coordinated class of Class 1, and more than three million neither in Class 1 nor a coordinated class of Class 1.
The importance of class and coordinated class are more apparent in looking at how frequency applicants overcome the initial 2(d) citation or citations. Applicants that receive a 2(d) citation in Class 1 or a coordinated class overcome it roughly 60% of the time; applicants that receive a 2(d) citation in an “unrelated” class are about 10% more likely to be successful. The same trends hold since 2014 as over all citations, suggesting that – at least for this class – citations in unrelated classes were noticeably less likely to hold up after further argument by the applicant.
Within the coordinated classes, refusals in Class 1 tended to be the most difficult to overcome; citations to Class 42 (traditionally a grab-bag of services, though now more narrowly defined) and Class 200 were the most likely to be overcome by applicants. Refusals in Classes A and B were less common, but comparatively difficult to overcome, perhaps because they can include especially broad descriptions of goods.
We will be looking at other classes and other prosecution in more depth over the coming weeks and months. If you have specific topics of interest, please let us know at email@example.com.
TM TKO just added a new manual search field – mark length. What can you do with this?
Let’s say you have a client with a two-letter mark – an acronym for their company name. Let’s say your client is a bank – Penny & Associates. It wants to register its PA (stylized) mark. A prior registration for PA (stylized) is owned by Pennsylvania Accountants, Inc. – but with a pretty different stylization. Before you file, you want to see if there are any other examples of co-existence for these same services with other two-letter marks.
With TM TKO, you can find co-existence and find examples of applicants for conceptually similar two-letter marks who faced a refusal — and overcame it.
First things first – let’s find co-existence examples. We’ll search for two-letter terms for “banking” services in Class 36, and limit to use-based registrations (to show actual marketplace overlap). We get 150 different matching results. Sort by mark, so we bring identical marks together, regardless of owner. It’s then simple to tag the overlap. We get a number of examples of co-existence: AB (3 different owners), BB (3), BC (2), C1 (2), CB (8), CC (2), FP (2), FS (3), L1 (2), MM (3), MW (2), PB (3), SC (2), SP (2), SS (2), and UN (2).
See the results:
You can export to Excel or Word, or grab current status and title copies with one click via the TSDR export button to provide your Examiner evidence of the overlap.
If you do the same search for Office Actions (add a “Cited Trademark Criteria” to limit to 2-letter cited marks and an “Office Action Criteria” and the “Issue” as “2(d)”), and you can use a similar search strategy to find other applicants who have overcome similar problems.