Trademark Business Development Made Easier with TM TKO

For years, TM TKO clients have been using our unlimited trademark watching services for years to identify new potential clients that grow their trademark practices. TM TKO has now simplified the process of setting up business-development-focused watches to find new trademark clients.

I. Find Trademark Clients – Use the “Business” Tab

After you log in, you’ll see a new “Business” tab along the top. This wizard will help you quickly set up watches that will identify unrepresented trademark applicants who could use your help. With pre-set options for new applicants, new Office Action recipients (including the option to limit by issue type), new Notices of Allowance, or various types of abandonments, you can set up and customize an array of business-generating watches in just a few clicks. Make sure to pay attention to the customization advice on that page – there’s more advice on that front below, in this post.

Need something different? Just let us know and we can help you set up the watch that you need.

II. Making the Most out of Business Development Watching – Tips & Tricks

How can you get the most mileage out of business development watching and expand your trademark practice? There are two keys.

II.A. Find Your Audience and Your Pitch to Acquire Trademark Clients

Give potential clients a strong reason to pick your services. Two strategies can be especially successful.

Geography – You like where you live, so connect with others in your city or state who need your help! The option to have face-to-face contact can sway people’s choice of legal counsel, even if you end up communicating primarily or exclusively via email or phone.

Industry – Is there an industry where you have special knowledge? Are you a musician, or do you have deep knowledge in biomedical science, or do you have a background in fashion or retail? Focus your watching on applicants in the International Class or Classes that are most relevant, and stand out by emphasizing your expertise in your outreach.

Language Skills and Foreign Relationships – Targeting foreign applicants can be especially useful if you have strong language skills. Similarly, if you already do a lot of work with foreign counsel from a country or a region, targeting international applicants of the sort you’re already helping – and highlighting your expertise in doing so – can be especially fruitful.

II.B. Be Systematic and Active to Grow Your Practice

Systematic activity is the key – fortunately, it’s not hard to set up a repeatable process that requires little manual effort. TM TKO’s watching sends you a list of business prospects in CSV format every morning, tailored to your ideal client set. You can use either an email service (like Constant Contact, MailChimp, Emma, or EmailOctopus) or a print-and-mail service (like VistaPrint or Click2Mail) to contact these potential clients. You can customize your outreach to the industry or the type of legal issues they are facing, and you can even use intermediaries like Zapier to completely automate your outreach process.

III. Don’t Forget Your Current Clients!

Your best clients are the ones you already have. If you haven’t used Portfolios to set up watching across your existing trademark portfolio already, it’s really simple. In minutes, you can make sure you can protect your clients in several ways, finding:

(1) new applications similar to their marks,
(2) applications that are newly published for opposition that are similar to their marks, and
(3) any new 2(d) citations from the Office citing one of your clients’ marks.

TM TKO gives you a simple way to protect their marks and expand your own dispute-related book of business.

IV. Contact Us!

Trademark business development watching is available with any TM TKO subscription; there are no extra fees. Subscribers get unlimited access to all of our trademark clearance, watch, Office Action research and analytics, and other prosecution tools, too – a great value. If you have any questions about setting up business development or existing-client watches, or have special needs, please reach out to us at support@tmtko.com.

Business Entity Listing data added to Knockout Results

TM TKO is excited to incorporate business entity data into our clearance search reports! To read about how to access this data via our manual search tools, check out our previous post.

Business entity data is presented in its own section of your report. It takes into account entity name and NAICS/SIC codes (translated to international class data) and presents relevant results. Many of the business entities have additional information from third-party sources, like website data, employee info, and more. This business entity information tends to be focused on entities that have a physical location.

Screenshot showing the new business entity data in a search report

You can export business entity data separately from or together with trademark record data to Word or Excel, and export either the full report or just the tagged records.

Updated knockout search export interface

Business entity data is on by default for all new knockout searches, but can be turned off via a checkbox.

We hope you enjoy the new data and additional functionality in our clearance reports!

Safeguard Your Attorney Information with TM TKO

The USPTO recently issued an alert that is very important for trademark attorneys: some foreign applicants are attempting to skirt the bar on non-US applicants and lawyers prosecuting US applications by listing a US lawyer as correspondent, but where the US lawyer actually has nothing to do with the application.

This kind of fraud could impact your practice and reputation. Fortunately, with TM TKO’s Portfolio feature, it’s easy to get notified any time your name is used fraudulently. Anyone using your name fraudulently will want to get notice of USPTO correspondence, so they will use their own email address instead of an email address from your firm.

Click on Portfolios then New Portfolios, and stay in the “Attorney” tab. Give this Portfolio a name, like “Attorney Fraud.” If you are a one-person practice or only checking yourself, add two rules: one for your name as Attorney of Record, and one for the Correspondent Email. Leave only the top three checkboxes selected, as shown below.

If you are tracking your whole firm’s trademark practitioner, you will want want to have a Group of rules for the Attorney Names. Be sure to set the Boolean for that group to “or” and leave only the top three checkboxes selected, as shown below.

You will now be updated once a week, and get prompt knowledge of any fraudulent use of your name.

If you have any questions about setting up this Portfolio, or any other ways to use TM TKO to support your practice, don’t hesitate to reach out at support@tmtko.com.

Foreign Equivalents Refusals: Examination Outcomes

This blog post takes a statistical look at the foreign equivalents doctrine, and how it influences examination outcomes in 2(d) refusals. In particular, I wanted to compare refusals where the Examining Attorney based the refusal on the foreign equivalents doctrine against Office Actions that did not raise the foreign equivalents doctrine but did emphasize that one or more terms in the mark are synonyms.

I looked at both 2019 and 2018 data, since so many of the 2019 applications have not made their way to a final decision yet.

Foreign equivalents refusals tend to result in a higher rate of refusals than “synonym” refusals. Roughly 10% more applications that had a foreign equivalents issue raised were refused in 2018 vs. “synonym” refusals. On a much smaller data set, the outcomes are much more closely equivalent in 2019, but outcomes are still worse for applications that receive a foreign equivalent refusal.

It’s also interesting that “synonym” refusals are just less common than “foreign equivalent” refusals – foreign equivalent refusals are about 5x more common than “synonym” refusals. Why? From dipping into specific examples, it appears that a decent percentage of the “synonym” refusals are not focused on the shared term in the mark – they’re the Examiner noting that an additional term, often weaker or descriptive, is essentially synonymous and so not sufficient to differentiate the two marks.

To see if I got different results, I restricted the search to only instances where there was a 1-word mark on each side of the refusal. (This is just space-delimited, so I’m sure it pulls in some compound marks, but it’s close enough.) This dropped the data set dramatically, especially for “synonym” refusals.

I expected the abandonment rates to be higher here, since these are one-word to one-word comparison. It was higher, a bit, for foreign equivalents, but perhaps not as much as I expected – maybe the inclusion of articles in some foreign languages tilted the multi-word comparison rates a bit higher. On the “synonym” refusals, these were if anything overcome at a higher rate than multi-word terms, supporting the hypothesis above that synonym-related refusals are most likely to matter when it is a tacked-on, secondary word (like MVD ANALYSIS vs MVD ASSAY) that is the synonym than a synonym-based comparison of the strongest term in a mark (like BOBCAT vs. LYNX).

Don’t forget to take advantage of TM TKO’s full set of indexed, text-searchable USPTO trademark prosecution histories to find comparable refusals – and successful responses! – for your Office Actions, whether you are facing issues related to foreign equivalents, synonyms, or any other prosecution hurdles.

Team Names and Business Branding in College Towns

I am from Auburn, AL, a college town and home of Auburn University, and one thing that has always amused me since becoming a trademark lawyer is how much the University’s “Tigers” branding has suffused the community. From the Tiger Rags clothing store to the Tiger Tire & Auto repair shop to the Tiger Town mall in next-door Opelika, “Tiger” branding feels like it is everywhere.

Just for fun, I used TM TKO’s new business listing data to do a bit of research on the commonality of team nicknames in local company names in the combined statistical areas (CSAs, geographic regions set up by the Office of Management and Budget) near the university. A completely random assortment of schools and names:

Badgers near Madison: 200+
Bruins in LA: 590+
Buckeyes near Columbus: 500+
Bulldogs (or Dawgs) near Athens/Atlanta: 150+
Crimson in Boston: 20+
Huskies in Seattle: 20
Tigers near Auburn: 40+
Volunteers (or Vols) near Knoxville: 200+
Wolverines near Ann Arbor/Detroit: 140+

To do this sort of research, just go to the manual search tool and the Business Listing section.

New – TM TKO adds Business Listing data!

TM TKO is happy to announce that we are in the process of incorporating common-law business entity data into the TM TKO platform. How will we make use of this new data set?

Manual Search

The first place you will see this is in manual search, the Search option in your top menu. The “Business Listing” tab lets you search by a variety of fields, including a wide range of name search options, geographical options (including state and regional CSA data), SIC codes, and the International Class equivalents of common SIC codes. How can you use this?

This is immediately a valuable adjunct to your clearance efforts. Just plug in a key term from your mark, limit to an international class (and/or its coordinated classes), and you’re off and running with additional results.

In an Office Action Response or TTAB proceeding, evidence of common-law co-existence can be extremely valuable. For instance, the Federal Circuit strongly emphasized the importance of common-law uses of the term “Blue Moon” in the food and restaurant space. In re Coors Brewing, Co., 343 F.3d 1340, 68 USPQ2d 1059, 1061 (Fed. Cir. 2003). Let’s create a quick search to identify this sort of data.

You can quickly identify nearly 200 “Blue Moon” marks in the space, from restaurants to liquor stores and more. You’ll get both a chart with selectable data records, and the ability to pop open further details about the business, like its approximate age, sales, employees, and website, if available. The following screenshot provides an example.

Knockout Search

The business listing data will be incorporated into knockout search results next, providing additional depth in the reports and, later, additional details about entities that own trademark registrations that appear in the reports.

New Products

Keep an eye out for new products coming out this winter that will incorporate common-law data! We can’t spill the beans yet, but we’re very excited about the potential they have to change the way to practice.

What’s Left of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act?

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act lays out five grounds for refusal if it contains matter that is (1) immoral, (2) deceptive, or (3) scandalous, or (4) that may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute; or (5) is a geographical indication used for wines or spirits that identifies a place other than the origin of the goods and is first used after the WTO Agreement entered into force in the US.

The disparagement section was struck down on Constitutional grounds in Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1744, 198 L.Ed.2d 366 (2017); the immoral and scandalous sections came to the same end via Iancu v. Brunetti, No. 18–302, 588 U.S. ___ (2019). What remains? The prohibitions on deceptive marks, false suggestion, and geographic indications.

By far the most common type of 2(a) refusal now is for potentially deceptive marks, which have generated over 3,000 refusals in 2019. This refusal is often raised in the alternative to a 2(e)(1) refusal, and so is piggybacking on a much more common refusal a bit.

Immoral or scandalous marks each have around 300 refusals, largely suspension notices issued early in the year; these are starting to move forward to publication after the recent Brunetti decision. Most applications that received disparagement refusals have moved through to publication or registration or will do so shortly.

There were about 550 false suggestion refusals; about 1/5th of them have already gone abandoned, and a roughly equal number have moved through to publication or registration. These refusals appear to be especially common in the fashion space.

Finally, geographic indication-based refusals were extremely rare; there were only a handful and 2/3 have already moved through to publication or registration.

Visualizing Results in ThorCheck™

You may have noticed that ThorCheck reports now include visualizations of the search data.

What are the numbers?

There are three graphs. The first has raw counts on how common the two sets of goods (beer vs. pretzels) are, and how much overlap they had (both sets of goods in a single registration). The second gives you counts of how many identical and highly similar marks with different owners there are, and the third gives you counts of how many identical and highly similar marks with the same owners there are, whether in a single registration certificate or different certificates.

How can you use the numbers?

The charts give you a high-level view of the extent of overlap (or lack thereof) between two sets of marks or two sets of goods or services. You can do a quick look to see if you have a reasonable set of arguments, or if the arguments you want to make are outweighed by the .

The table below the graphical analysis section contains all the comparative research examples that you’ve come to expect. In the screenshot below, you’ll see the first three marks are identical, matching the “3” as “Exact” in the “Dissimilarity” section, and then the similar-but-not-identical mark comparisons start, like KEYSTONE LIGHT (disclaiming “light”) vs KEYSTONE PRETZELS (disclaiming “pretzels”). These are the examples that you will use to support your arguments, and the evidence you will provide your Examiner or the Board.

By mixing the context that the charts provide with the anecdotal evidence from the table, you can build your strongest Office Action Response or dispute arguments, and help your clients succeed.

New Tool! ThorCheck Custom Search

Class-Based and Keyword-Driven Comparative Research

ThorCheck is a great, unique tool for comparative research. The first iteration, and still the most commonly-used, helps you identify active, use-based registrations for the same mark for two different sets of goods, e.g. trailers and trucks. In re Thor Tech, Inc., 113 USPQ2d 1546 (TTAB 2015). It saves hours or even days of manual research, and has helped hundreds of applicants prevail over difficult related-goods refusals.

The original ThorCheck Goods and Services tool is still your best option for most goods/services comparative research, but was less adept at two kinds of searching.

The first was for class based comparisons – finding overlap between, say, a food in Class 29 or beverage in Class 32 and a restaurant service in Class 43, or between a pharmaceutical in Class 10 and a medical service provider in Class 44. Any evidence of that type of overlap is potentially valuable, and ThorCheck’s emphasis on individual goods or services didn’t allow for easy “general” comparisons like this.

The second was for highly varied goods and services, like software – give the same description of a hospital-focused SAAS to ten different trademark lawyers, you’ll get ten different descriptions of services.

The new Custom option solves both sets of problems.

Class-Based Comparisons

Setting up a custom search is easy – just pick one class in First Party Trademark Criteria and the other in Second Party Trademark Criteria. As always with ThorCheck, your results are limited to active, use-based registrations.

Exporting a summary chart and TSDR status and title copies is as easy as always; just tag relevant results and export to Word or Excel, or select up to 100 records to get TSDR status and title copies at a go.

What if you’re the senior party, and want evidence that cosmetics are related to more industrial chemicals? Just pick Class 1 and 3 respectively, and change the Evidence option to “Similarity,” as shown below.

Keyword-Driven Goods and Services Comparisons

Custom goods and services ThorCheck search strategies look a little more complicated, but they are conceptually simple: come up with two sets of search strategies that identify either different (Dissimilarity option) or overlapping (Similarity option) universes of marks. ThorCheck will put all the pieces together, lining up identical marks with either different owners (Dissimilarity option) or identical owners (Similarity option).

Let’s do an example. Say your client offers industrial software for running oil, gas, and mining operations. A prior registration for software in the HR space has been cited as a bar to registration, with the Examining Attorney taking the position that part of running industrial operations is dealing with HR issues. You plan to argue channels of trade and that the users of the software are different, but would love to have evidence to attack the relatedness of the goods directly. ThorCheck can provide it. We want to limit both First Party and Second Party criteria to Class 9 and 42. On the First Party Criteria, we want to pair software-related keywords with keywords like mining, oil, gas, and industrial. One the Second Party Criteria, we want to pair those same software keywords with either the phrase “human resources” or the term “HR.” The search strategy looks like this:

The results speak for themselves – dozens of examples of just this sort of overlap. A sampling of the representative results are attached, and it’s only a fraction of the evidence surfaced by ThorCheck. (The Word formatting doesn’t carry over to the blog great, so some details have been truncated for readability.)

OwnerGoods/ServicesMarkMarkGoods/ServicesOwner
Illinois Tool Works Inc.009
business management software, namely, project management software for truss fabrication projects in the business component industry
HOMEBASE
Reg: 2803070
HOMEBASE
Reg: 4694369
009 042
software for human resources and labor management for employee communications, scheduling, task management, payroll, hiring, accounting, alerts, messaging, compliance, timesheets, reviews and feedback (…)
Pioneer Works, Inc.
Epicor Software Corporation009
computer software for use in the made-to-order or custom manufacturing industry (…)
VISTA
Reg: 2895370
VISTA
Reg: 5387674
009
computer software for use in human resource management, in maintaining personnel and benefits records, and in processing payrolls
Personnel Data Systems, Inc.
DBA PDS
Rosemount Inc.037 042
technical support services, namely, troubleshooting of industrial process control computer software problems; installation of computer software for industrial process control systems
SMARTSTART
Reg: 3544081
SMARTSTART
Reg: 4969661
038 042
(…) application service provider (…) in the fields of (…) human resources, (…)
Smartstory Technologies, Inc.
TSI Incorporated009
computer interface units and computer programs for use with gas or liquid flow measurement apparatus (…)
TSI
Reg: 3651680
TSI
Reg: 4096817
009 041
educational computer programs (…) used to teach persons (…) human resources (…)
NACD, LLC
Advanced Digital Data, Inc.009
business management software that allows customers (…) to check their account status (…) in the petroleum products industry
SMARTCONNECT
Reg: 3124058
SMARTCONNECT
Reg: 5770389
042
provision of cloud computing (…) services (…) in the fields of payroll, tax, compliance, human resources (…)
ADP, LLC
Carrier Logistics Inc.009
computer software for freight management in the transportation industry
FACTS
Reg: 3074116
FACTS
Reg: 5645276
042
(…) on-line non-downloadable software that allows consumers to manage human resources information, (…)
Criterion Inc.

Please enjoy our new class-based and keyword-based research options in ThorCheck, and keep the success stories coming! We love to hear how ThorCheck has helped your practice. Also, please tell your fellow trademark attorneys – word of mouth recommendations mean a lot to us.

Digitally Altered Specimen Refusals – By the Numbers

The US Patent & Trademark Office just came out with a new Examination Guide covering digitally altered specimens. Examination Guide 3-19 Examination of Specimens for Use in Commerce: Digitally Created or Altered and Mockup Specimens (USPTO, July 2019).

TM TKO has full, searchable prosecution histories as a part of the research platform, so I searched for any Office Actions related to this type of refusal. Although the Examination Guide is new, the refusal is not – it really started appearing in 2015, when the refusal was made about 1,000 times, and the refusal rates has continued to spike in each year since; 2019 is on pace for over 20,000 refusals. Since 2016, more than half of these refusals have been issued to Chinese applicants. However, a surprisingly small number of refusals have, to date, “held up” and resulted in the abandonment of the application – about 70% of the applications that have been finally disposed of have moved forward to registration, a far higher figure that I would have expected.

This raises interesting questions about what sort of conduct should result in an application being invalid. The “fraud” line of cases, like Medinol Ltd. v. Neuro Vasx Inc., 67 USPQ2d 1205 (TTAB 2003), was killed extremely dead via Bose Corp. v. Hexawave, Inc., 88 USPQ2d 1332 (TTAB 2007). The Board has, as a result, been very unwilling to expand revisit the idea of “fraud,” even where the applicant provided a demonstrably false specimen – deceptive intent is required, and so long as the applicant doesn’t say they had deceptive intent, they’re pretty much going to get off the hook. Tommie Copper IP, Inc. v. Gcool-Tech Usa LLC, Opposition No. 91223768 (May 9, 2018) [not precedential]. That a use-based application might be void ab initio due to non-use as of the use date claim might still be tenable, e.g., Parametric Technology Corporation v. PLMIC, LLC, Opposition No. 91174641 and PLMIC, LLC v. Parametric Technology Corporation, Opposition No. 91177168 (February 12, 2010) [not precedential], but the case law seems pretty clear that an applicant that knowingly submits a fake specimen and then cures with a real one prior to registration is basically going to be fine.

On the one hand, if the applicant ultimately can show that it is making real, in-commerce use of the mark, where’s the harm? The applicant got it right eventually and, for the purposes of having a registry that reflects reality, well, it does. On the other hand, there’s some real skepticism in the practice community that the specimens that are eventually accepted are actually real – that, instead, they’re just better fakes. Why would you fake something if you have a real product or service, after all?

Some practitioners take the position that the verified statement of the applicant should be taken at face value. I do not agree. If a simple Google Images or Tineye search can find the original photo that was doctored to match, or it’s otherwise equally blatant (a McDonald’s restaurant photo with “Mary’s Burgers” badly edited in place of “McDonald’s”), I see no reason why the USPTO should have to turn off its brain when examining specimens and ignore obvious fakes.

Represented vs. Unrepresented Applicants

How does being represented by an attorney impact the rate at which these refusals are issued, and the how does it impact the rates at which the refusals are overcome? The data for these queries treats pro se applicants who later add an attorney as “represented.”

Chinese Applicants

It is widely understood in the trademark practitioner community that a significant driver of these refusals are applications with Chinese applicants. That is definitely true – 45% or more of these refusals each year since 2016 are for Chinese applicants. Chinese applicants as a group overcome these refusals at a rate that is better than the norm. Chinese applicants have better success rates than unrepresented parties, although less than all represented parties do.

The issue of digitally altered specimens will undoubtedly continue to grow over time, as the technology becomes ever more omnipresent and the USPTO continues to work to implement its new Examination Guide. As always, TM TKO will be your best resource to research how the Office and other lawyers are addressing these kinds of refusals.

New! Trademark Portfolios

TM TKO is excited to release a new concept – Portfolios. You can set up Portfolios for your firm, yourself, and key clients’ competitors, with built-in conflict checking and automated watch setup. Watch includes published applications, 2(d) cite watching, and more, helping you protect your existing clients and generate complex, high-value work for your practice.

Setting up a Portfolio takes under a minute – just go to the Portfolio page! For instructions, go to the Portfolio help page.

Firm & Competitor Conflicts

Track your entire firm’s trademark portfolio, to help identify representational conflicts in clearance searches.

Set up portfolios for your key clients’ main competitors, so those results are highlighted in your clearance results.

Hassle-free Watching

Set up an attorney portfolio, and TM TKO will keep your watches updated for you as your client base changes – no effort required. If you are only watching a small fraction of your client’s marks, you are missing out on dozens of opportunities each year to protect your clients and generate more, high-value billable work for your practice.

Included:

  • confusingly similar new applications;
  • confusingly similar applications newly published for opposition;
  • 2(d) citations of your clients’ marks against other applications;
  • marks published over a 2(d) cite to a client mark;
  • automated Office Action Analysis for any inbound Office Actions, and more.

With Portfolios from TM TKO, you can do a better job avoiding conflicts, highlighting competitive risks, and protecting and developing more work from your existing clients. If you would like a hand setting up or using the full power of Portfolios, just email us at support@tmtko.com and we will set up a web meeting.

What’s Going to Follow Brunetti?

The US Supreme Court has, as you’ve doubtless read a million articles about already, struck down the Section 2(a) bar on registration of “immoral [] or scandalous matter.” Iancu v. Brunetti, ___ U.S. ___ (2019). It was no surprise to anyone who had read Matal v. Tam, the 2018 decision finding the 2(a) bar on disparaging matter to be unconstitutional. 582 U.S. ___ (2017).

This blog post will take a more practical look at what applications will be impacted, using TM TKO’s searchable issue tagging.

More than five hundred applications that are currently suspended based awaiting issuance of the Brunetti decision. The following numbers show the common terms that have resulted in suspensions, and include more easily-searched spelling variations.

Fuck and variants – 173

Shit and variants – 59

Breast-related – 16

Penis-related – 71

Vagina-related – 36

Butt-related – 17

Quite a few more related to specific sex acts, although there’s too much variation for easy enough searching for the purposes of this blog post.

A bit under half of the suspended applications do not have counsel; those applicants represented by counsel were somewhat more likely than the unrepresented applicants were more likely to have multiple applications suspended awaiting the Brunetti decision.

There does not appear to have been a land rush to file new applications for offensive – yet. Application data can take a few days to a week to filter into the USPTO data set, so it’s possible that there has in fact been a profane land rush that will become apparent over the next few days.