A Provisional Patent Application and a Non-Provisional Patent Application: What’s the Difference!?

On March 13, 2013, the United States, under the America Invents Act, moved from a first-to-invent patent system to a first-to-file system. In other words, the first person to file a patent application will have priority over another, regardless of who was the first inventor. Clearly, now more than ever, there is a great importance in getting your patent application filed as soon as your invention is ready to be filed. A great mechanism to do this is through the use of provisional patent applications.

A provisional patent application will never mature into a patent. Instead, a follow up non-provisional patent application will need to be filed based on the provisional, or the provisional itself can be converted to a non-provisional patent application. So if you still need to file a non-provisional patent application, why bother with a provisional?

One of the biggest values in filing a provisional patent application is gaining the benefit of an earlier filing date. The provisional patent application gets your foot in the door so to speak without some of the formalities required with a non-provisional patent application. The early filing date can put you in favorable position in relation to your competitors or others in general who might be working on a similar invention.

Another reason provisional patent applications can be a good idea is due to cost. The USPTO filing fee for a provisional patent application is, if you qualify for micro-entity status, as low as $65 (versus a $400 filing fee for a non-provisional patent application). Moreover, the cost of preparation of a provisional is generally much less due to the less formal filing requirements when compared to a non-provisional. For example, a provisional application does not require patent claims.

A provisional patent application also allows you to reveal your invention to the public without fear of loss of your patent rights. Without such filing, a public disclosure can result in the loss of your patent rights in the United States. However, in some situation where a public disclosure has already been made, you may have a one-year grace period to file a patent application depending on the circumstances. Many times, the Inventor is unaware of these public disclosure limitations, and in these situations, where that one-year grace period is approaching, filing a provisional patent application may be the best choice due to time constraints. Unfortunately, public disclosures will most certainly result in the loss of your patent rights in many foreign countries.

Upon filing of the provisional application, you are also free to conduct marketing campaigns and get a sense of what the demand for your invention may be. This can also help to develop cash inflow to fund down-stream patent related costs, not to mention cash to further develop your invention. You may also, at this point label your invention as “patent pending.”

Another benefit of filing a provisional patent application is that you can combine multiple provisional into one non-provisional application. This is useful in situations where you file a first provisional application and then you subsequently develop another variation or embodiment that was not disclosed in the original. You can quickly file another provisional application to protect the new embodiment, and as long as you filed the new provisional application before the one-year filing date of the first provisional application, you can combine them into one all-encompassing non-provisional patent application.

Still, there are some important caveats here. Importantly, just because the provisional application filing requirements are less formal does not mean that the invention disclosure can be incomplete. You must completely describe your invention as it stands at the time in the provisional application. Put another way, a provisional patent application is only as good as the level of detail of the disclosure found within. A poorly written provisional application can do more harm than good.

It is also of note that a provisional patent application has a lifespan of 12 months from the filing date. In order to take advantage of the provisional application filing date, you must file a non-provisional patent application based off of the provisional application before the 12-month anniversary, after which it will become abandoned.

Whether or not you file a provisional or non-provisional patent application is up to you. As you can see, there are many benefits to in using provisional patent applications.

David Lilenfeld


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Trademark Office Rejects Sporting Goods Game Face Mark for Sports Masks

In a recent decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (the “TTAB”) affirmed a refusal to register GAME FACE for sports masks after finding that the trademark is likely to be confused with the registered GAME FACE marks used with paintball masks.

Figure 1: Applicant’s Sports Mask

Markwort Sporting Goods Company (the “Applicant”) filed an application to register the trademark GAME FACE for use on sports face masks for baseball, softball, soccer, flag football, lacrosse and field hockey.

Initially the Trademark Office refused registration on the ground that the mark was confusingly similar to a trademark that had already been registered (the “Registrant”).

The Registrant used the GAME FACE trademark in connection with “paintball sporting articles, namely protective masks”.  However, the Applicant’s application did not list paintball as one of the sports and specifically noted that its facemask is “incapable of protecting the eyes from liquid contaminates as in paintball activities”.

Figure 2: Registrant's Paintball Mask

Figure 2: Registrant’s Paintball Mask

The Trademark Office used webpages from three major sporting goods stores as evidence that the marks are likely to cause confusion:

“A purchaser who encounters the Applicant’s GAME FACE protective mask would also encounter the Registrant’s GAME FACE protective mask in the same store, leading him to be confused into believe the two products emanate from the same source.” The Trademark Office asserted “the goods are similar because they are used in the same way and have the same purpose”. The Board agreed and focused on the fact that both the Applicant and the Registrant’s goods have the same purpose of protecting the face by preventing balls from causing injury.

Applicant argued that its sports masks are different because the masks do not prevent liquids or paintballs from striking the face. Applicant also refuted the use of the web pages as evidence of related trade channels.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that the Trademark Office had not established that the trade channels were related, and that the webpages were not persuasive evidence. The Board reasoned that there is no evidence that “such goods are ever located in the same section of the store or near one another” and that “the mere fact goods can be found in the same stores of a large retailer does not mean the goods are related”.

Although the Board rejected the webpages as evidence, it found that “a consumer who has a lacrosse mask and then is considering a paintball mask would likely consider the goods as emanating from the same source even if they are offered for sale in different sections of the same store or on different web pages”.

For the Board, the only necessary determination was whether a “viable relationship” existed between the applicant’s sports mask and the registrant’s paintball mask. “Where at least one of the cited marks is identical to the applicant’s mark, in order to find the goods related, there need only be a viable relationship between the respective goods”. In this case, the Board concluded the viable relationship requirement was satisfied.

It’s worth noting that the TTAB also disagreed that GAME FACE is a weak mark when applied to the goods involved. The Board also disagreed that consumers would take heightened care in purchasing the masks, stating the face masks were not expensive enough to justify heightened care.

Due to the “identical function” of the applicant’s sports mask and the registrant’s paintball mask, the TTAB affirmed the refusal to register applicant’s mark GAME FACE for sports mask. You can read more about this decision and the opinion here.

David Lilenfeld


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Six Essential Steps To Protect Your Brand and Trademark

Selecting and developing a strong trademark is often vital to the creation of a successful brand.  A trademark identifies your business and allows purchasers to quickly connect your products or services to their source.  A single word (e.g. Nike), symbol (e.g. McDonald’s Arch), color (e.g. Coca-Cola red), shape (e.g. iPod shape), sound (e.g. the NBC Chimes), or even smell, can enable a purchaser to identify the source of a product in just seconds.  But choosing the right trademark can be an overwhelming task.  The following six steps should provide a helpful list of things to consider when picking and registering a trademark.

1.    Is a trademark right for you?  Trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets are all different and unique forms of intellectual property. A trademark is often a brand name or logo that identifies the particular origin of goods or services.  Since trademarks identify source, trademarks must be placed on or used in connection with the products or services they identify.  For example, use of a domain name only as part of a web address does not qualify as source-indicating trademark use, but other prominent use of the mark, apart from the web address, near the goods or services, may qualify as trademark use.

2.    Select a trademark with care.  Not every mark may be registered and the strength of a trademark can vary widely.  While most businesses want to explicitly identify their products or services (e.g. Fried Chicken Kitchen), words used to describe an entire category of goods or services are known as “generic” and cannot be registered.  For that reason, when picking a trademark it is best to be creative.  Before you file a trademark application you should consider: (1) whether the mark you want meets the guidelines for registration, and (2) how difficult it will be to protect your mark based on the strength of the mark selected.

3.    Search the USPTO database.  Before 100% committing to your trademark, search the USPTO database to see if anyone else has already registered the word, symbol, color, shape, sound, or smell you like.  If other businesses have registered the same or similar marks for your goods or services, then there is strong chance your registration may be refused.

4.    File online.  The USPTO has an online system, the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), which you can use to apply for your trademark.  You can access the online application from the USPTO website.  When filing your application, remember two things: (1) The processing fee is nonrefundable, so make sure you review everything before you press “submit”, and (2) all information included in your application will be publicly available, so you may want to stay away from including your home address.

5.    Consider Hiring a Trademark Attorney.  Selecting and registering a trademark is a complicated process, so you should certainly consider hiring an expert in the field.  trademark attorneys have professional insight and experience, which will simplify the application process and can end up saving you time and money in the end.  They can be particularly helpful during the trademark selection phase.  So before you go too far, consider whether you should consult a trademark attorney.  For more information on selecting a trademark attorney check out our blog post from January 19, 2015 “How to Choose a Trademark Attorney.”

6.    Monitor Your Application.  Once you file your application, it is important to check the status every 3-4 months and make sure you don’t miss a filing date. Applications may be monitored through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval System (TSDR).  Just plug in the mark, owner’s name, or serial number to look up your file and check for any updates.

David Lilenfeld

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All Sporting Good Brands Should Aspire to Be a Lifestyle Brand

A growing number of our clients come from the sporting goods industry.

Brands are critical to a business’ success in every industry, but especially with sporting goods.  Strong brands in the sporting goods industry gain strong customer loyalty, which produces repeat buyers willing to pay premium prices.  At the heart of branding is the complex world of trademark law.

A trademark is a symbol of the origin of a product, which enables consumers to recognize the source of the product they are considering buying. Trademarks can be a word (e.g., Adidas), a symbol (e.g., Nike swoosh), a number (e.g., No. 2), a color, a shape, a sound, or even a smell.

Buyers rely on trademarks as a quick and reliable guide to assure the quality they seek, and to distinguish between products offered by competing companies.  Trademarks help companies build a reputation in the market and develop and retain a loyal clientele, by instilling consumer confidence and trust in the products they sell.  The goodwill associated with a successful sporting brand can be a tremendous commercial asset.

The association of trademarks at sporting events can benefit the brand by appealing to the aspirations and emotions of sports fans.  A well positioned brand will become a symbol of a specific sporting lifestyle.  Thus the brand becomes a way to live, not just a product to buy.

David Lilenfeld

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The Trademark Office Won’t Play Ball – Cancels REDSKINS Registration

In a 170-page ruling, the Trademark Office recently canceled the registration of the National Football League’s team, REDSKINS mark as disparaging to Native Americans.

The ruling should help educate the public that trademark rights are primarily based on use of a trademark, not on registration of a trademark.  For that reason, you do not need a registration to enforce rights in a trademark, but you must use the mark.  The decision does not mean that the team is required to change its name.  Nor does it mean the NFL is unable to prevent others from making commercial use of the name.

The Trademark Office made this distinction clear at the outset, stating, “[t]his decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a).  We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”

Owning a federal trademark registration has several benefits: nationwide constructive notice of rights; prima facie conclusive evidence of exclusive rights to use the mark for the identified goods or services; and the backing of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection minimize importation of counterfeit goods.  However, if a registration is cancelled, common law trademark rights can be relied upon in the territories the trademark was actually used.

To determine whether an owner has common law rights in a trademark, courts not only require continuous use of the trademark, but also consider how widespread the distribution is and the extent of the public’s association with the trademark.  An owner of common law rights – even one lacking a federal registration — can still sue for infringement in state or federal court and obtain both injunctive relief and monetary damages in appropriate cases.

David M. Lilenfeld

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How to Choose a Trademark Attorney

I am frequently disappointed with attorneys who hold themselves out as “trademark attorneys,” when, in reality, they have very little trademark experience.

If you are considering hiring a trademark attorney here are ways to see for yourself whether the attorney truly has trademark expertise:

1.         Use TESS for Filing Trademark Applications

If you are considering hiring an attorney to file a trademark application for you, use TESS.

Step #1:           Find the Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) on the Internet and select “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Structured).”

Step #2:           Enter the attorney’s name in the “Search Term” box.

Step #3:           In the “Field” drop down menu, select “Attorney of Record” and click search.

A list will appear showing the applications in which the attorney is the Attorney of Record.  If the attorney’s name is a common one (e.g., Thomas Smith), make sure you only count those applications filed by the actual attorney you are considering hiring, not another attorney with the same name.

2.         Use PACER for Trademark Lawsuits

If you need to hire a trademark attorney for a lawsuit (also called a “trademark litigator”) you should ask the attorney for a list of trademark lawsuits he or she has handled.  An attorney should readily produce a list for you.  He or she can retrieve it from Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).  Non-lawyers can also conduct their own limited searches on PACER.  Note that the federal courts code trademark lawsuits under the number “840” – so look for that code.

Hire a trademark attorney with real trademark experience, not just one who calls himself or herself one.  The above tips can help you verify that the attorney has the real experience you need.

David M. Lilenfeld

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POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca-Cola Company in Trademark Fight

A recent Supreme Court ruling sided with Pom Wonderful in a case claiming that The Coca-Cola Company’s “Pomegranate Blueberry” beverage offered by its Minute Maid unit is misleading. The 8-0 ruling allows Pom Wonderful to go forward with its lawsuit against Coke alleging that the “Pomegranate Blueberry” label is misleading because 99 percent of the drink is apple and grape juice. Only 0.3 percent is pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent is blueberry juice. Pom filed its lawsuit against Coke in 2008 after it began losing market share to Minute Maid’s “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” drink. The drink’s label shows the words “Pomegranate Blueberry” in much larger type than the rest of the phrase and emphasizes the pomegranate with a large picture of the fruit.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed the lower courts’ decisions in favor of Coke, which were based on Coke’s defense that the label conforms to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. The Supreme Court’s reversal is important because it sets a precedent that a food label could technically comply with FDA rules but still be misleading to the consumer demographic. Justice Kennedy wrote that the law governing regulation of food and drug labels does not preclude a competitor from suing under the Lanham Act for unfair competition based on false or misleading claims. The Court also ruled that federal food and trademark laws complement each other in the regulation of misleading labels – they are not interpreted as one or the other.

This decision is interesting as it could open the door to more litigation by competitors against food makers for deceptive labeling. On an interesting note, the federal government has filed a separate and unrelated deceptive advertising case against Pom for claiming that its pomegranate juice can treat or prevent heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses. The Federal Trade Commission’s action is pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.]

David Lilenfeld

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Keep This in Mind Next Time You Leave an Online Review

Often when we experience bad service, our first inclination is to leave a negative review for the company on a website such as Amazon, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. However, recently some companies have begun threatening to bring suits for defamation against customers who leave negative reviews about their businesses.

What is even more concerning is that a Virginia court recently ordered Yelp to turn over the names of seven people who left negative reviews for a carpet cleaning company. One of the main reasons people feel comfortable speaking openly online is that their identities are protected by user names, which is now compromised by rulings such as this one.

So what is the best way to protect yourself? You must act in good faith and not lie in your review. Truth is a defense against libel (the defamation of a party in written form). To prove a case of libel in court, a plaintiff (here, the company) must prove that the defendant (here, the individual) made a statement that the defendant knew to be false, injurious, and unprivileged. In basic non-legal terms, this means that, as long as you tell the truth in your review, you are probably safe.

David Lilenfeld

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Lilenfeld PC attends IP Section’s CLE and 50th Anniversary Event

On May 22, 2014, we attended a CLE called “Policing and Enforcing Intellectual Property in Social Media” hosted by the IP Section of the State Bar of Georgia. The panel featured Lindsey Corbin (Z5 Consulting), Bakari Brock (Lyft, formerly Twitter, Google, and YouTube), and Todd Williams (Turner Broadcasting). It was moderated by Joe Staley (Kids II, Inc.) and Matt Smith (Innovolt).

The panelists spoke on a variety of issues, including protection in foreign countries, gTLD’s, and  how the law is trying to catch up to how quickly technology is changing. It was a great event followed by the IP Section’s 50th Anniversary Event.pic for blog entry

David M. Lilenfeld

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