After quite a lot of complaints from the trademark bar, the USPTO issued revised Examination Guide 1-20 on Feb. 15, 2020 — the day it became effective. The updates primarily related to the email requirements for represented applicants, but the Exam Guide itself is much broader. This blog post breaks down the categories in the Exam Guide and, probably more helpfully, describes the first handful of Office Actions that point to the Exam Guide to get a feel for how the Office is actually going to use it.
E-Filing Requirements and Application Requirements
Between Sections I and IV of the Guide, e-filing is now generally mandatory. But, a handful of exceptions where paper submissions are acceptable. These requirements have generated zero Office Actions so far – we’ll have to wait for the first major TEAS implosion to see the practical impact.
Much ink has been spilled over the email address requirements, and we won’t belabor the point here – the Office has not yet issued any Office Actions addressing the email portion of the Guide.
The Guide formalizes some existing trends, tightening up examination of certain types of specimens in use claims.
- Requires labels or tags to be physically attached to the goods or to show “actual use in commerce” via informative information like UPC bar codes or lists of contents.
- Requires more information about the URL submitted for web page specimens. The Office hasn’t quite caught up to the idea of non-static URLs, but oh well.
- Emphasizes that mockups and digitally created illustrations and the like are inadquate.
All of the Office Actions issued so far that refer to Exam Guide 1-20 relate to specimen issues.
- Class 7: 1 (OA: refused specimen as referring to sensor technology integrated into a pump rather than a pump)
- Class 9/42: 1 (OA: web portion of specimen was missing URL/date)
- Class 21: 1 (OA: web portion of specimen was missing URL/date)
- Class 25: 3 (1: OA: specimen was tag or label unattached to the goods; 2: OA: specimen was tag or label unattached to the goods; 3: OA: specimen was tag or label unattached to the goods)
- Class 10/41: 1 (OA: specimen in the service class did not include date)
- Class 20/40: 2 (same mark for each; OA: specimen had screenshot of website but did not show mark on product, plus URL/date issue)
At least so far, it’s really just two problems cropping up: the lack of a date on website screenshots, and free-floating labels with no connection to the product. The label issue has always been dumb, and was exploited for years by unknowing or less scrupulous applicants. It’s a great fix.
The web-based specimen changes are a mixed bag. The URL requirement is along the right lines, in that it attempts to differentiate “live” sites from mock-ups. It could be better – it makes no attempt to differentiate between public and “gated” sites that are not publicly accessible, which would get at the “use” issue better, and makes no allowances for non-static URLs, which impacts the ability of Examiners to check on the claimed use. The date requirement is a bit more problematic – most browsers do not show date information on-screen, and many websites print to PDF very poorly, so adding a date requires some third-party software or extra steps.
We will continue to watch as the use of Exam Guide 1-20 evolves, and especially as the Office stats examining the email issue.