The old joke among CPAs was to call any update to the tax code a "Continued Accountant Employment Act." After all, the more complex the law, the more need for experts.
U.S.-licensed intellectual property attorneys may look at a new trademark rule in a similar fashion. Starting next month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will require foreign-domiciled trademark applicants to be represented by an attorney licensed to practice in the United States.
"[I]ncreasing numbers of foreign applicants are likely receiving inaccurate or no information about the legal requirements for trademark registration in the U.S., such as the standards for use of a mark in commerce, who can properly aver to matters and sign for the mark owner, or even who the true owner of a mark is under U.S. law," according to the USPTO. "This practice raises legitimate concerns that affected applications and any resulting registrations are potentially invalid, and thus negatively impacts the integrity of the trademark register."
The new rule applies to all foreign-domiciled trademark applicants, registrants, and parties to Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceedings, and requires them to have a U.S.-licensed attorney represent them at the USPTO in all trademark matters. It also requires those attorneys to provide their bar membership information and confirm they are an active member in good standing.
The USPTO reported an increase in inaccurate and possibly fraudulent submissions from foreign trademark applicants, registrants, and other parties, as well as filings that simply did not comply with its rules. Those submissions, according to the USPTO, were often made with the assistance of individuals or entities not authorized to represent patent and trademark applicants.
"Businesses rely on the U.S. trademark register to make important legal decisions about their brands. In order to maintain the accuracy and integrity of the register, for the benefit of all its users, the USPTO must have the appropriate tools to enforce compliance by all applicants and registrants," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu. "This rule is a significant step in combatting fraudulent submissions."
This is all good news for American attorneys -- at least those that can cultivate a foreign-based intellectual property clientele. But before you start popping bottles of bubbly in anticipation of booming business, head over to the USPTO's FAQ on the new rule and make sure you're in compliance.