UPDATE: Amazon Brand Registry: Logos (kind of) welcome now

Following up on this “Logos Need Not Apply” post.

This was what the requirements for the Amazon Brand Registry looked like a few months ago:

AmazonBrand

 

Now, they have added Mark Drawing Types 3 and 5, or, “AN ILLUSTRATION DRAWING WHICH INCLUDES WORD(S), LETTER(S)/NUMBER(S)” and “WORDS, LETTERS, OR NUMBERS IN A STYLIZED FORM” respectively.

See:

AmazonBrand-update

So, unless your registered trademark is a logo with no text anywhere on the mark, you can use your registration to enroll in the Amazon Brand Registry.

 

Govern Yourself Strangely

Writing and receiving demand letters is part of the daily grind.  We send and receive all types – the nice-ish demand when the facts aren’t 100% favorable.  The stern demand when there is egregious conduct (although I will never, ever write GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY on a letter).  The outlandish demand with no legal basis (often sent by both pro se parties and attorneys alike, but not me of course).

For the most part, demand letters and responses are exercises in posturing, providing notice of bad behavior, and creating a record for future litigation.  But, every now and then attorneys can break out of their mahogany shell and write a demand letter that, a) has some humor, and b) does not engage in the typical “govern yourself accordingly and immediately cease and desist from XYZ…”

That brings me to a cease and desist letter sent by Netflix to the operator of a “pop-up bar” named The Upside Down and that has a Stranger Things theme.

The marketing looks like this:

ST-pop
Source: http://www.emporiumchicago.com/gallery/the-upside-down/

“The Upside Down” is the name given to an alternate reality within the show – it is a dimension.  As I’ve blogged before, even fictional brands can receive trademark protection.   While “The Upside Down” isn’t a brand on the show, it is a label or term that fans will obviously recognize.  In fact, it would not be unusual at all for fans to think that this pop-up bar has some official connection to the show.  It uses the “official” typeface and design (although that’s not uncommon) and many other show-related elements and themes:

Source: http://www.emporiumchicago.com/gallery/the-upside-down/

Put simply – this could have easily been a GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY letter to shut down the temporary bar and protect the Stranger Things brand assets.  But that’s not what happened.  This did:

Netflix-Letter-Stranger-Things-Pop-Up-Bar (PDF)

ST-demand

Well played, Netflix Director/Senior Counsel of Content & Brand IP.  Many clients would not allow such a letter to go out because they perceive the mahogany/govern-yourself-accordingly treatment as the way things should be.  Anything other than that is, well, strange.  But strange can be good, and in this case a typical demand letter could have resulted in some Streisand Effect-level backlash.  Instead of that, Netflix’s legal department comes across as chill while still putting the pop-up bar on notice that this is a one-time deal and anything after that will not be tolerated.  Could this encourage others to do the same across the country?  Maybe, and I bet those letters won’t be as fun, but for now, even potential new pop-up bar operators are on notice that Netflix is watching.

GOVERN YOURSELF STRANGELY

 

Kevin W. Wimberly, Esquirious

 

Encls.

cc: Client

 

Amazon’s Brand Registry – Logos Need Not Apply

You may have heard of Amazon’s “Brand Registry.”  If not, it is a way for a brand owner to register and claim a brand name so that the claimant can better monitor for counterfeit goods, rogue sellers, and other issues on Amazon.

In a trademark application, there is an area for filling out “Correspondent” information.  This is typically where a lawyer’s information goes if a lawyer filed the application.  It’s also where Amazon looks to see where Amazon should send Brand Registry emails.  For example, if my client is ACME Anvils, and my client owns a registered trademark for “ACME Anvils,” then I am likely the “Correspondent” for that registration.  Thus, when ACME Anvils decides to list its anvils on Amazon and also wants to claim the ACME Anvils brand as its own, Amazon will send me, as the Correspondent, an email such as the following:

Hello,

We write to validate the identity of an individual seeking to enroll brand: “ACME Anvils” in Amazon Brand Registry. You are listed as the contact for the registered trademark for brand: “ACME Anvils”.

We are unable to provide you with the name of the applicant and have directed the applicant to contact you. In order to give the applicant approval to enroll brand: “ACME Anvils” in Amazon’s Brand Registry, provide the verification code listed below to the applicant. If you decline, do not provide the code.

Verification code:  [redacted]

Thank you in advance for your assistance, Amazon Brand Registry Support

Best regards,

Karthik

Amazon Brand Registry Support

When we receive such emails, we simply forward them to the client, and the client ultimately claims the brand on Amazon.

Sounds easy, right?  It is, but there is a MAJOR caveat:

AmazonBrand

That’s right – if you only have a logo-version of your mark registered with the USPTO, you cannot claim the brand via Amazon’s Brand Registry.  You must have a registration for the plain-text version of your mark.

(In case the graphic doesn’t show up, the highlighted portion says that to enroll in the Brand Registry, the brand name must be “a live registered trademark, which is a word mark and NOT a stylized, illustration, or design mark.”)

This is a very important reason to seek protection for the plain-text version of your mark in conjunction with, or prior to, seeking protection for your logo.  We often see clients who are adamant about only filing a trademark application for their logo.  This is understandable.  The logo was probably the product of much debate, love, and cash.  People seem more wedded to their logos than their simple textual brand names.  But, we typically advise clients to begin with the plain text version of the mark as it can be seen as providing “broader” protection because there are no claims to specific colors or symbols – it’s just the name of the mark regardless of how it’s presented.   However, if you sell goods that you would like to ultimately list on Amazon, at least under the current policy, you should consider registering the plaint-text version of your mark.

Florida inching closer to medical marijuana regulations

Medical marijuana has been a reality in Florida for several years via the “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC path, or, via the path for patients who are terminally ill.  However, as of January 3, 2017, a new path has been created for a much more inclusive class of medical marijuana patients.  The new protocol will not be limited to low-THC or to terminally-ill patients. Rather, it will be available to those with specifically-listed conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, HIV, and, a “chronic nonmalignant pain” catch-all condition.  On June 23, 2017, Governor Scott approved Senate Bill 8-A, currently found at Chapter 2017-232 of the Laws of Florida.

While the laws provide a specific framework for the new medical marijuana system, many details are yet to be drafted, which is the current task of the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.  “But wait, this is an intellectual property blog, why are we writing about this?”  And, “I’ve heard that Florida uses the ‘vertical integration’ model, which limits participants in the industry.”  True.  But, as more patients are added to the medical marijuana registry, more licenses will be added for cultivators and treatment centers (yes, they must be the same entity).  And, we expect that each year there will be adjustments to the regulations and laws as the market takes shape.

So, why is this important from an intellectual property perspective?  For a number of reasons.  For example, as long as marijuana is a Class 1-scheduled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, any cultivation, possession, sale, transport, etc. of cannabis is illegal at the federal level.  It does not matter that Florida is legalizing certain aspects.  Thus, your brand for a medical marijuana product is likely unregistrable via the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  (There are registrations for marijuana-related goods and services, but if the federal application reveals goods or services that in any way might violate the CSA, then the application will likely be rejected.  See my prior blog post HERE.)

Despite the federal obstacles, your brand may be registered under Florida’s state trademark registration system.  For example, there are already state registrations for businesses such as a nursery/dispensing organization and an independent cannabis testing lab.  It therefore appears as if Florida will issue registrations for trademarks which would otherwise not be allowed registration at the federal level.

But, before you start filing your state trademark applications, there are numerous issues you need to discuss with your attorney, such as the requirement that you are actually using the mark in commerce at the time of filing the application.  Florida does not offer an “intent-to-use” application as is available at the federal level. Thus, you cannot “reserve” a brand by filing an intent-to-use application.  More importantly, if you are a licensed dispensing organization or seek to become one, you will be bound by the new law, and the new law contains restrictions on your advertising practices, including requiring Department of Health approval of your trade name!  Here’s an example from Chapter 2017-232:

A medical marijuana treatment center may not engage in advertising that is visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park, or other public place, except:

1. The dispensing location of a medical marijuana treatment center may have a sign that is affixed to the outside or hanging in the window of the premises which identifies the dispensary by the licensee’s business name, a department-approved trade name, or a department-approved logo. A medical marijuana treatment center’s trade name and logo may not contain wording or images commonly associated with marketing targeted toward children or which promote recreational use of marijuana.

2. A medical marijuana treatment center may engage in Internet advertising and marketing under the following conditions:

a. All advertisements must be approved by the department.

b. An advertisement may not have any content that specifically targets individuals under the age of 18, including cartoon characters or similar images.

c. An advertisement may not be an unsolicited pop-up advertisement.

d. Opt-in marketing must include an easy and permanent opt out feature.

Another example comes from the section of the law which states what must be included on the packaging for the medical marijuana product:

The product name, if applicable, and dosage form, including concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol.  The product name may not contain wording commonly associated with products marketed by or to children.

As you can see, the Department of Health must approve your trade name and logo.  Further, your Internet-based advertising must be approved by the Department of Health.  Oddly, there is a specific ban on “unsolicited pop-up advertisements,” and there is an “opt-out” requirement for marketing (which is likely already a requirement via the federal CAN-SPAM law).  As for the packaging requirement, while the law does not say that the Department must approve brand names, the current guidance is simply that the brand name of the product “may not contain wording commonly associated with products marketed by or to children.”  One wonders what the drafters had in mind when banning names associated with products marketed “by” children.  I understand not using terms associated with products marketed “to” children, but “by” children?  As in, lemonade and Girl Scout Cookies?  Aha!  Girl Scout Cookies happens to be the name of a very popular strain of cannabis, so perhaps that was the reason for including “by” children.  This provision would certainly prohibit selling a “Girl Scout Cookie” strain of cannabis concentrate oil.

Since the Department of Health is only just now writing the relevant regulations, we don’t know what other implications there may be for marijuana-related-business branding, but we do know that branding will be tightly controlled.

Of course, this is just one small issue related to intellectual property and the cannabis industry.  Other issues such as trademark licensing, the federal/state disconnect on trademark registrations, patenting cannabis-related inventions, trade secrets, copyrightable content (and ownership thereof), and many more remain just as important.  Given the high level of risk and high-cost of entry into this market, it is critical to carefully and cautiously plan your participation.  And, while the majority of the States now have some form of legal marijuana use, it is worth repeating (again, and again, and again) that federal law treats the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for any purpose – even a medical one – as a crime, regardless of state law.  Accordingly, the importance of due diligence cannot be overstated.

Florida Medical Marijuana CLE in June

I’ll be giving a short presentation on the intellectual property issues relevant to medical marijuana businesses – whether it’s a dispensary, farm, “lifestyle” brand, or any other company with an interest in medical (or legal recreational) marijuana.

The CLE is in Miami on June 29 and 30.

I encourage you to take a look at the agenda for this CLE.  Not only is John Morgan speaking at the event, but some highly-respected and experienced attorneys will also be speaking, such as folks from Harris Bricken LLP.  I’m looking forward to this CLE not only for the chance to speak but also for the chance to hear and learn from these industry veterans.

Here’s a link to the program, and these are the main topics:

  • Amendment 2 Rules Update
  • Federal vs. State Conflict
  • Taxes and the Treatment of Cannabis Income
  • Real Estate and Land Use
  • Intellectual Property
  • Marijuana Banking
  • Investing in the Cannabis Industry
  • Ethical Considerations and Legalized Marijuana
  • Medical Experience in Other States
  • Contracting with Marijuana Related Businesses
  • Insurance in the Cannabis Industry

Best Footnote in a Legal Opinion?

FN6: The court imagines an appropriate reaction from SpongeBob SquarePants would be, “Aw, tartar sauce!” SpongeBob SquarePants, Hall Monitor (Nickelodeon television broadcast Aug. 28, 1999).

That footnote is from a Janury 11, 2017 opinion by Judge Gray H. Miller of the Southern District of Texas which granted partial summary judgment to Viacom in its lawsuit against the operator of a proposed restaurant named the “Krusty Krab,” which we all know is this:

krusty_krab

Source: http://spongebob.wikia.com/wiki/Krusty_Krab

A couple of takeaways:

  1. Notice that I said this was a “proposed” restaurant.  How did Viacom find out about it if it was not in operation yet?  Because the operator of the restaurant filed a trademark application for THE KRUSTY KRAB for use with restaurant services.  Companies routinely monitor the USPTO’s trademark application records (i.e. the Official Gazette) so that they can file oppositions to the applications before they mature into registrations.  Except in this case, Viacom chose not to oppose the application at the USPTO level and instead sued in federal court.  (Based on the trademark application timeline, Viacom may have inadvertently missed the window to oppose the application, and since it’s an intent-to-use application, Viacom would have had to wait until the application matured into a registration to then try and cancel it.  If that’s the case, Viacom could have been waiting for up to three years before the applicant filed a statement of use, which is what would then push the application to a registration.)  Procedure nerds might be wondering how the case was ripe for adjudication if the restaurant was not yet in business.  When there is imminent threat of infringement, a case may be ripe for injunctive relief, and that’s what happened here.
  2. Even fictional brands can be protected under trademark law because consumers will expect a connection between the fictional brand and the source of the movie or TV show that uses the fictional brand.  Such as the Simpsons-themed food and beverage at Universal Studios:

img_0096

Source: http://www.foodbeast.com/news/krusty-burger-and-moes-tavern-now-open-at-universal-studios-hollywood/

See also: Springfield Dining at Universal Orlando

Here is the FULL OPINION.