Should the USPTO Delay Publication of Trademark Applications? (Part 1)

A while back, I published a couple of posts (here and here) about Chevrolet’s trademark applications for BOLT and CHEVROLET BOLT (Application Nos. 86357513 and 86357523).  The automaker had previously filed trademark applications for the same marks in Brazil, and the U.S. applications claimed priority to the Brazilian ones.

At the time, there was much speculation in the blogosphere about Chevy’s intentions:  was the company really planning a new vehicle called the BOLT or was it trying to preclude others from using the name?

Given that question, my posts focused on the use requirement for registration of most U.S. trademarks and explained that, for a U.S. trademark application claiming priority to an application filed in another country, the applicant can obtain a U.S. registration based on registration of the priority application in that country.

This is an exception to the general rule that the applicant must use the mark in the U.S. for the goods and/or services listed in the application to get a registration and must prove such use by submitting a specimen showing such use.

So filing a U.S. trademark application based on a foreign or international registration gets around the use requirement (in the United States and potentially anywhere in the world), at least for the purpose of obtaining a U.S. trademark registration.  I concluded, therefore, that perhaps Chevy’s motivation was to skirt the use requirement in the United States.

That explanation probably was wrong because, as it turned out, Chevy did unveil a concept car call the BOLT at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015 and indicated it would start production in 2017.

Nevertheless, that might have been the end of the matter for me if I hadn’t caught another notable news item from around the same time about the intricacies of trademark filing.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal’s law blog and the Trinidad Express, among others, before filing its U.S. trademark application for APPLE WATCH Apple filed an application for the mark in the Caribbean twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

As technology reporters, bloggers, and consumers wondered what Apple would call its new smartwatch, the company had already taken the critical step in securing its trademark rights to the name several months before launching the product.  And it did so way off the radar so as to keep it under wraps.

This is because, unlike patent applications, U.S. trademark applications are immediately publicly available after filing (it may take a day or two for processing, but there is no publication delay in the system).

So while those tech observers certainly thought to search the U.S. trademark application records to glean Apple’s branding intentions, it would have occurred to no one to attempt a review of Trinidad and Tobago trademark filings.

Within six months, Apple filed at least one U.S. application for APPLE WATCH claiming priority to the Trinidad and Tobago application (Application No 86389945).

Since the Chevrolet Bolt posts and the Apple Watch news, my mind has drifted back these trademark filing curiosities many times.

For some reason, they bother me, and I find myself posing this question:  why should a U.S. trademark applicant that wants to take that crucial first step of securing its rights with a trademark filing while maintaining control of a new brand launch have to file an application in an intellectual property office in some obscure corner of the planet?

My idea, which has been percolating for a while, is this:  perhaps there should be a delay in initial publication of new trademark applications, a brief “blackout” period to maintain applicants’ confidentiality.  I’ll explain this proposal in detail in Part 2 of this post.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.