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Coronavirus and Trademarks

March 27, 2020 | Intellectual Property

The recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has had serious impacts on businesses – some temporary, some lasting. Many businesses have closed their physical locations by choice, and many have been forced to close due to state or local regulations. Many businesses are now struggling to stay alive and hope they haven’t closed their doors for goods.

This probably means trademark protection for your business is pretty low on your list of concerns. But you may have already filed U.S. trademark applications or are fighting an Opposition/Cancellation proceeding through the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) – should you be worried? The answer is probably not. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is notorious for being one of the few governmental entities with almost 100% online functionality and is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing new technology. It seems that some employees already had the ability to work from home before coronavirus hit – many a time I have called an Examining Attorney and have heard children, dogs, etc. in the background, meaning their Examiners are already often working from home.

Moreover, the TTAB is already almost 100% online. Documents are filed online, the Board requires electronic service of documents, and any conferences are conducted via telephone. The only in-person hearings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board are by request only.

The USPTO has, however, issued a few updates addressing coronavirus:

  • The above-mentioned in-person hearings have all been moved to video or telephone conferences;
  • The official USPTO offices in Alexandria, Virginia are now closed to the public;
  • The USPTO has declared the effects of the coronavirus an “extraordinary situation” and may waive fees in certain situations for parties impacted by the virus; and
  • The USPTO waived the original handwritten signature requirement for certain filings.

At the end of the day, the changes to the USPTO due to coronavirus are minimal. There may be a slight delay in examination of U.S. trademark applications and TTAB filings, but that remains to be seen. So sit tight, keep your focus on your business during these trying times, and take solace in the fact that your trademark matters are proceeding without issue.