All posts by Christina Frangiosa

About Christina Frangiosa

IP attorney focusing on trademark, copyright, domain name, data security, litigation and complex commercial matters. Admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. NOTE: The comments and posts contained in this blog do not constitute legal advice -- if you are in need of counsel for a specific issue, please discuss your concerns with an attorney and obtain advice that is specific to your needs.

What do Barber Poles and Lapel Pins Have in Common?

Both can serve as examples of trademark use in connection with membership in an organization. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported on enforcement actions by the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology & Esthetics to fine the unauthorized use of a barber pole by a hair salon that did not have any barbers on staff. Jennifer Levitz, “Barber Poles Have Their Own Police Force, With Badges and Everything,Wall Street Journal (May 2, 2017) (subscription may be required). The article also reported on the enforcement actions by the Arizona State Board of Barbers carried out by their state inspectors against salons for unlawful displays of barber poles or its likeness, without a licensed barber on duty (a violation of the Arizona Administrative Code). Id.

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New Law Prohibits Non-Disparagement Provisions in Form Consumer Contracts

On December 14, 2016, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5111, a bill that prohibits companies from including within their standard form contracts with its consumers a non-disparagement clause that would prevent such customers from making any statements about the company’s products, services or employees. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 (“CRFA” or “the Act”) passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, garnering bipartisan support. See also House Debate, 162 Cong. Rec. H5295-H5298 (daily ed. Sept. 12, 2016) (statements upon introduction by bipartisan cosponsors). In fact, H.R. 5111 passed in the Senate, without amendment, on Unanimous Consent on November 28, 2016. See Senate Debate, 162 Cong. Rec. S6520 (daily ed. Nov. 28, 2016). Upon signing by the president, the Bill became Public Law No. 114-258.

Provisions and Application of CRFA

The law prohibits any “person” (which could be an individual or an entity) from “offer[ing] a form contract containing a provision described as void in subsection (b).” Id. §2 (c). Such provisions that are “void from the inception of the contract” include at least one of the following prohibited characteristics: Continue reading

USPTO Requests Comment on Draft Examination Guide for Matter “Incapable” of Registration

On January 25, 2017, the USPTO released its Draft Examination Guide on “Incapable Informational Matter” (“Draft Guide”) for public comment. As it has with several prior requests for comment about draft examination guides, the USPTO has requested interested parties to submit their comments electronically through the USPTO’s Idea Scale “Trademark Policy Collaboration Site.” Initially, the USPTO requested that comments be submitted no later than February 13, 2017 (Trademark Alert 1/25/17), but has since extend the deadline until March 15, 2017. (Trademark Alert 2/7/17). To date, no comments have been posted about the guide.

In its January 25 Alert, the USPTO explained the purpose of the Draft Guide:

“The types of wording held as merely informational by case law is growing. Marks that include such wording must be refused because they do not identify the source of the goods or services. Each section of this guide discusses a common category of informational matter and covers case law, analysis, and possible response options. This guidance is intended to promote consistency by clarifying examination policies and procedures.”

See Alert; see also February 13 Alert (same message with minor editorial changes). More particularly, the Draft Guide focuses primarily on refusals to register marks that fail to function as source indicators (in other words, instances where marks, or portions of marks, “fail[ ] to distinguish the applicant’s goods/services from those of others or to identify a single source” and which are thus not qualified to be registered as trademarks because they “fail to function as a mark.” Draft Guide at 1.

EXAMPLES OF MATTER THAT FAILS TO FUNCTION AS A MARK

The Draft Guide focused on three main categories of “informational matter” that are incapable of functioning as a trademark and thus is not registrable: matter that is 1) “used in a manner merely to convey information about the goods/services;” 2) a widely-used message; and 3) a “direct quotation, passage and/or citation from a religious text.” Highlights in each category will be addressed below.

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Common Questions – Can I Copyright My Formula?

Probably not. No matter how new a formula (a.k.a. recipe) may be, if it simply comprises a combination of ingredients mixed together to form a new and unique dish, it is not likely to be copyrightable. And, once published, even if the recipe contains additional descriptions or commentary or similar copyrightable expressive content, nothing would actually prevent someone from making the dish.

Consider an example of the brand-new restaurant, whose chefs for have worked together to create a very unique and unusual menu for their customers. After several months, one chef leaves to start a new restaurant – and publishes a cookbook that contains many of the recipes he co-developed with his former co-owner.

Is this infringement?

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Common Questions: What’s the Difference Between a Trademark and a Service Mark?

This is actually a trick question – the answer is, “not much”. Generally, trademarks refer to source-identifying marks used in connection with goods (products) and service marks are used for the same purpose, but in connection with services.  The associated rights – to be able to preclude others from using a confusingly similar mark in connection with similar goods or services – are the same.

But one important way in which they are different is the way in which an applicant for registration of a mark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) demonstrates that it is using the mark in commerce. Whether an applicant applies for registration of a mark based on actual use in commerce (§ 1(a)) or based upon a bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce (“ITU” – § 1(b)), each applicant must at some point during the prosecution of its application submit an example (“Specimen”) of how the mark is used in commerce in connection with the specific goods or services.  (For more about the trademark application process, see Common Questions: What’s Involved in Registering a U.S. Trademark.)

Acceptable Specimens for Trademarks

Simply put, if an applicant seeks to demonstrate use of its mark in connection with goods, it must show the mark as used in the process of selling or offering to sell those goods to the purchasing public. Examples of such use include:

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