What is a Trademark?
While driving down the road, you might recognize that a McDonald’s is approaching your line of sight by identifying the infamous “golden arches” at the forefront of your dashboard. With this iconic symbol pinned at nearly every intersection, it is difficult not to recognize the fact that McDonald’s has some pretty serious brand establishment.
It is no easy feat to accomplish this type of remunerative stature, however, the process of protecting a brand’s identity is a great way to start. Submitting a trademark application is one of the first things a business can do to establish an economic profile and jump start a brand’s identity.
The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a trademark as a word, phrase, symbol, design or a combination of any of the aforementioned that defines goods or services. This is how consumers are likely able to identify a brand from other potential competitors and can also protect a business from its economic rivalries.
With that said, any business entity or individual can apply for a trademark. It is an essential part of protecting a company’s intellectual property and can emphasize the marketability of a business.
Filing a Trademark Application
During the process of filing a trademark application, the mark will be evaluated as to whether it is registrable, and how difficult it will be to protect. After this has been determined, the application will be submitted to the USPTO for review and approval.
From this point forward, the proposed mark will live in the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) while awaiting review. TESS is a trademark database that allows anyone in the world to search for trademarks that have been registered or applied for in the United States. This platform is used to show the public what trademarks are currently awaiting registration, and which of those already have a registered status. This also give entities a closer look into the current climate of what companies are looking to register as their own mark.
Such as any publicly searchable database, TESS provides a great deal of public exposure to pending trademark applications, which can be a huge topic of concern for high-profile companies. Big fish brands have to go through the same process of filing a trademark application just like any other business, so a considerable amount of time, strategy and analysis goes into selecting the best course of action for submitting a trademark.
Concealing a Trademark Application
Recently, companies have gotten more sophisticated with how they approach submitting their trademark applications. With society’s ever-growing concern for the next big product, it has become harder and harder for brands to mask their newest creations inside the world of the internet, thus requiring concealment. The most recent example of a successful trademark concealment can be found in Apple’s latest addition to their tech roster, the iPhone 14.
September 16, 2022 marked the release of the new and improved iPhone 14, with some pretty distinctive upgrades. Most notably, what was once was a thick black indent on the top of the screen is now an interactive touch bar titled the Dynamic Island. This new upgrade allows the user to engage with the screen in a multitude of variations that are not privy to older iPhone generations.
Apple is no stranger to trademarks, so it can be assumed that their strategy on filing certain trademark applications is razor sharp. The submission of the Dynamic Island trademark was kept well under wraps without an inkling of potential for pre-exposure, and many ask how this was possible given the highly anticipated launch of the tech giant’s newest addition to the iPhone dynasty.
This concept of concealing trademark applications to prevent pre-exposure has become an increasingly used tactic amongst many big named brands. TESLA is another example of a very established company that utilizes this tactic to conceal their latest and greatest trademark. Other companies use this approach to prevent competitors from searching for technology gold.
With that, there are certain strategies you can implement into a trademark application to prevent the general public from viewing and potentially replicating a mark. Trademark concealment is most commonly utilized when a brand wants anonymity during the process of waiting for a trademark registration, which has consistently been met with success. This is accompanied by using foreign priority rights to keep the trademark filing a secret.
What is Section 44(d)?
Section 44(d) of the Trademark Act has allowed companies to jump over the hurdle of having their trademark applications displayed in the Trademark Electronic Search System by filing their trademark application in a foreign country such as Jamaica, or in any other country that does not have an online database viewable to the public. If someone wanted to view the recent trademark applications in Jamaica, they would need to go the physical Jamaican trademark office. This provides an extra layer of effort and determination for scouters to cross through in attempting to leak a mark.
Now, subject to scrutiny and public opinion, this loophole does not have a very long shelf-life. If a company intends on having their mark registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, it is required that trademark applicants file with the U.S. claiming priority to the trademark within 6-months of filing the foreign application. Given the fact that the majority of brands use this tactic to prepare for the release of major products, the concern of the concealment lifespan is marginal to most.
Section 44(d) gives companies practically 6-months of secrecy to prepare for any necessary actions before the trademark is officially released as public record in the U.S. Whether that be a media event or a soft social media launch, it is imperative to a business that their secrets remain well hidden- and rightfully so.
This is an extremely useful way for brands to maintain the integrity of their most prized trademark applications, and a beneficial tool to utilize when there is concern over competitor poaching. If this alternative did not exist, some of our most beloved products might not be what they are today.
The protection of your trademark is one of Lloyd & Mousilli’s highest priorities. Our seasoned legal counselors can provide you with the necessary tools required to file a successful trademark application and maintain the integrity of your intellectual property.