This blog, part 1 of a 2-part series on the cancellation of federally registered trademarks, focuses on the cancellation of registered trademarks by operation of law.  The maintenance of federally registered trademarks should be part of a strategic planning approach for protecting and enhancing the value of intellectual property rights obtained through hard work, a dream, and perseverance.   For registered marks that are still being used in commerce, failure to renew these marks may well have a detrimental impact on registered mark’s owner strategic business plans including its exit strategy.  This blog discusses: I) the importance of trademark registration renewals; II) the USPTO’s registered trademark renewal schedule; and III) recommendations for monitoring registration due dates.

I. Background on Registered Trademarks & the Ramifications of Non-Renewal

Federally registered trademarks are valuable, monetizable business assets for even small businesses because they promote brand recognition in the minds of target consumers/businesses.   A registered mark may be leased, sold, and even used as collateral. Registered marks help establish the mark owner’s credibility amongst its customer base, whether that base is comprised of consumers or other businesses.  Also, registered marks allow the mark owner to use and enforce the mark throughout the country in which it is registered.  For the United States, the “reach” of registered trademarks includes all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Securing a registered trademark is no small feat.  That’s why registered mark owners need to understand that mark registration does not automatically result in “forever” associated rights under the law.  Continued registration status is contingent upon the periodic renewal of the mark with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (and/or the foreign office(s) in countries where the mark has been registered).  Failure to renew the registered mark will result in cancellation of the mark.  The only way to get the mark “back” is to submit a new application which may or may not be approved.

Failure to renew a registered mark can have serious ramifications including a decrease in a business’s valuation due to the loss of registration status; failure to procure the same registered mark upon submission of a new application; loss of brand awareness and client loyalty; and greater difficulty for a company to protect its goods or services against piracy or counterfeiting.

If a registered trademark loses its registration status and cannot “regain” registration status, the user of the mark will need to depend on common law rights which are generally more difficult and costly to enforce.   Common law trademarks generally only allow the owner to sue for infringement in state court.  Also, whereas federally registered trademark owners may seek injunctive relief, common law trademark owners are generally restricted to receiving monetary damages. Finally, lack of a registered trademark(s) can also interfere with a company’s growth strategy across state lines including growing a franchise.

Once a mark is cancelled, anybody may file an application to register the mark through the USPTO (or other relevant jurisdiction).  This does not mean that the application will actually evolve into a registered mark since the application will be examined on its own merits.  Theoretically, the former owner of the registered mark may also still have common law priority rights in the mark.

II. The USPTO’s Trademark Renewal Schedule

The owners of a registered trademark must periodically renew their registered trademark to maintain the mark’s registered status.  This process of “renewing” a registered trademark is known as post-registration maintenance.  Failure to do so will result in cancellation of the mark. Trademark law imposes the following renewal deadlines:  between the 5th and 6th years after the registration date though a Section 8 Declaration, the 9th and 10th years after the registration date, and every 10 years thereafter.  The latter two types of renewals involve the filing of a combined Section 8 and Section 9 Declaration. The Section 8 Declaration actually refers to mark maintenance while the Section 9 Declaration refers to mark renewal.

It is important to note that the registrant is asserting that the mark is indeed being used in commerce when submitting the declarations.  Additionally, the registrant must amend the original description of goods and/or services to delete any goods/services no longer being sold or offered in commerce.  Specimens showing use of the mark must also be submitted. In other words, Section 8/9 Declarations require something more than a statement “we’re good to go.” If the registered mark is no longer being used in commerce with at least one of the registration’s specified goods/services, the registrant should not file a Section 8/9 Declaration.

The USPTO provides a 6-month grace period after each of the deadlines for filing the renewal for an additional filing fee.  Failure to at least file the required declaration within the 6-month grace period will result in cancellation of the registered mark.  The registrant may file a petition to revive the cancelled mark within 2 months of the USPTO’s notice of cancellation.  The petition must be accompanied by all necessary declarations and fees.  If more than 2 months have passed since the USPTO’s cancellation notice, a trademark owner will need to file a new application for the same mark.  There is no guarantee that the new application will evolve into a registered mark.

If a registered mark is subsequently cancelled by operation of law (i.e., for failure to renew), the effective cancellation date stated in the USPTO’s record’s publicly viewable records will be the last day immediately preceding the start of the 6-month grace period associated with the renewal period.

III. Steps a Registered Mark Owner Should Take to Monitor Renewal/Maintenance Due Dates

The commentator advises her trademark/IP clients to do the following to not only maintain their registered trademarks but also to enhance their value and the value of all of the registrant’s other intellectual property:

  1. For a new registrant, calendar the due date for the 5/6 year Section 8 Declaration. Ideally, file the documentation on the 5th anniversary date and no later than 6th year anniversary date even though the USPTO does offer a 6-month grace period following the 6th year anniversary date .  If our law office obtained the registration on behalf of the registrant, our office also calendars the due dates.  It is recommended that the required documentation be filed by an attorney, preferably the original attorney of record to ensure that any required amendments to the original description of goods and services are made.
  2. If a Section 8 Declaration 8 is filed as above, calendar the 10th anniversary date and the last date to timely file the Section 8/9 Declarations if the registrant is going to rely on the 6-month grace period.  Keep calendaring the renewal days in 10 year increments.
  3. We encourage all registrants to establish an IP portfolio which contains all government-granted IP rights (patents, registered trademarks, and registered copyrights) wherein the portfolio is maintained by a designated authorized representative for business registrants. Such organized records may come in very handy for those businesses which are seeking investors, potentially involved in an M&A, establishing a growth strategy, or considering selling/licensing their IP assets.  It is noted that issued utility patents must also be maintained periodically. Any such patent owner also needs to calendar patent maintenance due dates.
  4. If trademark rights are assigned by the registrant, the assignee should plan to take charge of all renewal dates and calendar the due dates.

In Need of Legal Counsel on Trademark Matters?

Trademark law is a complex area of the law.  Contact Susan at 305-279-4740 for a complimentary consultation on trademark law matters as well as matters related to patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.



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