Trademarks for Cannabis, Hemp, and CBD Products

Hemp Forest.  Photo by Barbetorte. CC license.
Trademarks for Cannabis, Hemp, and CBD Products
by Susan Basko, esq.

Trademarks for cannabis and hemp products are extremely limited.  I have seen quite a number of applications for trademarks, even made by lawyers, that will surely be rejected as they are assigned to an examiner.  I saw an application today that has about 5 lawyers from one law firm listed; apparently none of them bothered to research the law before filing the application.  The application seeks trademark registration on CBD oil used a dietary supplement; the Trademark Office has specifically stated it cannot register trademarks for any CBD product sold as a dietary supplement.  What will happen?  The trademark examiner will run the lawyers through a long series of inquiries and then will reject the application.  It will be about a year or more until the clients will find out they are not getting a registration.  That whole process will most likely cost the clients tens of thousands of dollars.  The whole thing is a shame because the Trademark Office has been very clear and forthright about how it is handling trademark applications on marijuana and CBD products.

These are the facts as they stand today.  It's not a pretty picture, but this is what it is:

US Trademarks follow federal law.  All cannabis and THC products are illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and so trademarks are refused on any such products or services with regard to those products.  Even if medical or recreational marijuana or THC is legal in a State, it is illegal under federal law, and so the US Trademark Office will refuse to register a trademark. Trademarks are also refused on any goods that are considered "drug paraphernalia," which is interpreted very broadly.  Drug paraphernalia is defined and examples listed below.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed cannabis products from the CSA if they are considered hemp products, meaning they have less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis.  This means that cannabis and CBD (cannabidiol) products that derive from hemp and have less than 0.3% THC are no longer illegal under the CSA -- however, they might still be illegal under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  The FDCA prohibits CBD products that are food, beverages, dietary supplements, or pet treats from being in commerce, and therefore, trademarks are refused on these products - since they cannot legally be in commerce.

CBD products that are food, beverages, dietary supplements, or pet treats are illegal under federal law and so cannot get a US registered trademark.

The FDA states that it has only approved one CBD product as a drug treatment for two rare forms of epilepsy.  The FDA has not approved any other CBD product for treatment for any other illness or condition.  The FDA states it is inquiring regarding the safety of CBD products and lists liver injury and other potential hazards.

At this time (early 2020), the US Trademark Office WILL REFUSE to register a trademark on the following goods or services:
  • Marijuana, Marijuana extract, or THC as goods, even if the sale is legal in the State in which it is being sold and even if it is medical marijuana.
  • Goods related to marijuana, such as vaporizers, and any "drug paraphernalia," which is listed below.
  • Services related to these goods, such as a marijuana store or delivery services,
  • CBD (cannabidiol) containing more than 0.3% THC 
  • Any CBD product containing less than 0.3% THC if it is a food, beverage, dietary supplement, or pet treat.  This would include such things as CBD gummies, drinks containing CBD, CBD capsules or oil to be taken as a supplement, or pet treats containing CBD. 
SO, WHAT CBD PRODUCTS ARE LEFT THAT CAN GET A REGISTERED TRADEMARK?  Possibly CBD oil that contains less than 0.3% THC that is not meant to be ingested and about which no medical claims have been made.  I do not know yet of any trademark that has been registered in this category, but that seems to be the only possibility.

Trademarks also cannot be registered on "drug paraphernalia," which is defined by the federal Controlled Substances Act as:

"The term "drug paraphernalia" means any equipment, product, or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance, possession of which is unlawful under this subchapter. It includes items primarily intended or designed for use in ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing marijuana, cocaine, hashish, hashish oil, PCP, methamphetamine, or amphetamines into the human body, such as—
(1) metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls;
(2) water pipes;
(3) carburetion tubes and devices;
(4) smoking and carburetion masks;
(5) roach clips: meaning objects used to hold burning material, such as a marihuana cigarette, that has become too small or too short to be held in the hand;
(6) miniature spoons with level capacities of one-tenth cubic centimeter or less;
(7) chamber pipes;
(8) carburetor pipes;
(9) electric pipes;
(10) air-driven pipes;
(11) chillums;
(12) bongs;
(13) ice pipes or chillers;
(14) wired cigarette papers; or
(15) cocaine freebase kits.

(e) Matters considered in determination of what constitutes drug paraphernalia

In determining whether an item constitutes drug paraphernalia, in addition to all other logically relevant factors, the following may be considered:
(1) instructions, oral or written, provided with the item concerning its use;
(2) descriptive materials accompanying the item which explain or depict its use;
(3) national and local advertising concerning its use;
(4) the manner in which the item is displayed for sale;
(5) whether the owner, or anyone in control of the item, is a legitimate supplier of like or related items to the community, such as a licensed distributor or dealer of tobacco products;
(6) direct or circumstantial evidence of the ratio of sales of the item(s) to the total sales of the business enterprise;
(7) the existence and scope of legitimate uses of the item in the community; and
(8) expert testimony concerning its use.

(f) Exemptions

This section shall not apply to—
(1) any person authorized by local, State, or Federal law to manufacture, possess, or distribute such items; or
(2) any item that, in the normal lawful course of business, is imported, exported, transported, or sold through the mail or by any other means, and traditionally intended for use with tobacco products, including any pipe, paper, or accessory.
ANALYSIS AND SUMMARY

First, remember that it is not necessary to have a registered trademark to create and use a trademark.  USE of a mark to denote the source of a good or service is how trademarks are created.  You can do that without any registration! Therefore, while the US Trademark Office will refuse registration on trademarks on goods and services that are illegal under federal law, if you are in a State where it is legal to sell marijuana or CBD products, you can use the trademarks of your choice.  Be sure to create your trademark words or images/ logos that are creative and original and that do not infringe on anyone else's trademarks.  You may want to create a file of evidence of your use of the trademark, in case the federal law ever changes.  Then you will have proof you have been using your trademark, where and when you have been using it.

 It will be interesting to watch and see if marijuana and CBD-based businesses will try to prevent other such businesses from infringing on their unregistered trademarks using State law claims.   Within a State where marijuana and/or CBD sales are legal, it seems likely that businesses will try to prevent each other from "stealing" their names, logos, slogans, etc.

Second, some States register trademarks.  Illinois, where marijuana has become legal for medical and recreational use, has an Illinois trademark registry.  You can see the Illinois Trademark Registration application form HERE.

Some other States also register trademarks for goods and services being sold within their States.  These in-state trademarks seem ideally suited to the situation involving marijuana and CBD products, where the US Trademark Office simply will not register trademarks, even if the goods or services are legal in the State.  But, keep in mind, a State trademark provides protection from infringement from within the State, not in other states.  However, since marijuana businesses are State-specific, there is less likelihood that buyers will confuse similarly-sounding businesses in other states.  Still, you might want to choose your trademarks carefully to make them original and unique, even from those used by businesses in other states.

ALSO, you may want to choose trademarks that fit the general rules of the US Trademark Office, so that you will be able to register your mark with the Feds if and when the rules change.  
I used to think of State trademarks as useless and foolish in this day of the internet.  I now see how the State trademark registries could be quite useful when a good or service is refused trademark registry by the US Trademark Office.

So, a solid trademark plan could be:

1. FEDERAL TRADEMARK?   Find out if your good or service is eligible for a US Trademark.  If it is a marijuana good or service, it is not eligible for a US Trademark.  If it is a CBD (with less than 0.3% THC) good or service, it is not eligible for US Trademark if it is a food, beverage, dietary supplement, or animal treat.  If your good or service is eligible, create a unique and original trademark that does not conflict with any existing trademarks and apply to register it at the US Trademark Office.  Keep in mind, registration is a process that takes about 18 months and has many facets to it.  A trademark registration for a CBD product will require a great deal of interaction between the trademark examiner and your lawyer.  The trademark examiner is required to engage in a series of inquiries regarding all applications for trademarks on CBD products or for other potentially illegal goods or services, where the potential illegality appears on the face of the application.

2. STATE TRADEMARK? If your goods or services are not legal under federal law, but if they are legal under State law, check and see if your State registers trademarks.  Create a trademark or service mark that is unique and original and does not conflict with any already-existing trademarks, and apply to register it with your State.  If you create a trademark that meets the other requirements of US Trademarks, then you will be set to apply to register with the US Trademark Office if and when the laws change.

3. USE IT ANYWAY!  If you find you cannot register your trademark federally or in-state, you can still use it!  You can create brand awareness with the name and/or symbol you use to denote the source of your goods and services, and you can do that without registering anything at all.  Just do a solid search to be sure you are not infringing on anyone else's trademark.

4. Get a trademark lawyer.  Don't try to do this on your own.  What I have written here is complicated, and it is the tip of the iceberg.  Trademark law is very complicated!  In the case of trademarks on marijuana and CBD products, a trademark inquiry involves not just the extremely complex trademark law, but also the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). 

5. Prepare in advance for changes in the law.  Keep pictures of your use of your trademark with your goods or services on products, on ads, on websites.  Keep a whole file of evidence as proof you have been using the trademark so you can register it with the US Trademark Office if and when the laws change.  It may take years for the laws to change, but they will likely change at some point, and you want to be prepared.  

Thomas Retzlaff v Jason Lee Van Dyke hits the US Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., USA
Thomas Retzlaff v Jason Lee Van Dyke hits the US Supreme Court
by Susan Basko, esq.

Thomas Retzlaff v Jason Lee Van Dyke. Motion for Stay of Mandate filed in anticipation of case being accepted by the US Supreme Court. Jason Lee Van Dyke, former lawyer for the Proud Boys, sued Thomas Retzlaff, alleging that Retzlaff caused him to lose a new job with TX prosecutor's office. The Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) came into play, and the federal court decided that anti-SLAPP law did not apply in federal court. An amicus brief was filed by 40 news and journalism companies in support of Retzlaff's position that the TCPA should apply in federal court cases. The Appeals Court ruled that the TCPA did not apply in federal court. In anticipation of a petition to the US Supreme Court, this emergency motion for a stay of the Mandate was filed.  Van Dyke is counsel for himself, Jeffrey Dorrell of Hanszen Laporte in Houston, Texas, is counsel for Thomas Retzlaff.

The amicus brief filed in this case by the news companies and journalism organizations can be seen HERE. 

Please note that Jason Lee Van Dyke, the lawyer from Texas and a party in these proceedings, is not the same person as Jason Van Dyke, the former police officer from Chicago.

Amicus Brief in Van Dyke v Retzlaff



Amicus Brief in Van Dyke v Retzlaff
by Susan Basko, esq.

Amicus Brief from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 
in Support of Thomas Retzlaff in Van Dyke v Retzlaff
re: TCPA Should Apply in Federal Court

 The following amicus brief was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 39 Media Organizations in support of Thomas Retzlaff in a lawsuit filed against him by Jason Lee Van Dyke, a lawyer and Chairman of the Proud Boys.  The amici argue that the Texas Citizens Participation Act, or TCPA, which is the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, should apply in Federal Court cases.

The amici are: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Associated Press, The Associated Press Media Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia (“AAN”), California News Publishers Association (“CNPA”), Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting (“CIR”), Courthouse News Service, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., The E.W. Scripps Company, First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media Works, Inc., Fox Television Stations, LLC, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Gannett Co., Inc., Hearst Corporation, International Documentary Assn., Investigative Reporting Program, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, The McClatchy Company, The Media Institute, Digital First Media, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio, Inc., The New York Times Company, News Media Alliance, Nexstar Media Group, Inc., Online News Association, POLITICO LLC, ProPublica, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Without Borders, The Seattle Times Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., Society of Professional Journalists, Texas Association of Broadcasters, Texas Press Association, Tully Center for Free Speech, and The Washington Post.



Up Down Periscope! Twitter's New Logo Not Creative Enough for Copyright


Up Down Periscope!  Twitter's New Logo Not Creative Enough for Copyright
by Susan Basko, esq

Back on September 9, 2016, Twitter applied for a trademark registration on the logo shown above, for use on its Periscope service.  The Trademark Examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) did a good deal of thoughtful work to change the wording and category of service to make it fit the international trademark being sought.  On October 3, 2017, the trademark received a certification for the following uses:

Providing online entertainment and real time news information, namely, providing news, information and commentary in the fields of entertainment, sports, fashion, education, recreation, training, blogging, celebrity, culture, namely, entertainment, sports and popular culture, and current events via the internet and other communications networks; current event news reporting services; entertainment services, namely, providing audio and audiovisual programs featuring entertainment, namely, news, information and commentary in the field of entertainment, and real time news content delivered by streaming via the internet and other communications networks.

The Design Search Codes used to search the database for possible conflicting designs were:

DESIGN SEARCH CODES:
01.11.02 - Moons, crescent
01.11.02 - Moons, half
01.11.02 - Partial moons, including half moons and crescent moons (not a moon with craters) 01.15.08 - Raindrop (a single drop)
01.15.08 - Single drop (rain, tear, etc.)
01.15.08 - Teardrop (a single drop)
26.01.21 - Circles that are totally or partially shaded.

Trademark protects a mark, which designates the source of a good or service. A trademark might be a word, a design, or even a sound. In this instance, Twitter registered a service trademark on both the word, "Periscope," and on the logo shown above. Twitter also applied to register a Copyright on the logo, but the U.S. Copyright Office refused to register the design, saying it was not creative enough. Twitter asked for a reconsideration and was denied again. Twitter asked for a second reconsideration and was denied yet again.

 Copyright law states that works of visual art made of standard geometric shapes cannot be registered. That includes such shapes as circles, squares, ovals, parallelograms, cylinders, and all other common geometric shapes. Copyright law also precludes other stock elements such as letters, numbers, punctuation marks, the marks on a keyboard, smiley faces, etc. However, arrangements of those elements that are sufficiently creative can have copyright. In denying a copyright for the Periscope logo, the Copyright Office stated that it “does not contain a sufficient amount of original and creative graphic or artistic authorship to support a copyright registration.” The third refusal letter explains, "that there are no elements or features in the design, alone or combined, that are eligible for copyright protection."

The Copyright Board concluded that the logo was the same as a vector point on a map, with slight variation.  "Hence, the Board finds that the selection and combination of the Work’s design elements are not sufficient to render the Work original, because the Work is a mere variation of a standard map pointer vector." The refusal letter continues, "Further, to the extent that the removal of a small portion of the red circle by placement of a white semi-circle causes the interior of the Work to represent an eyeball, the depiction is simplistic and does not exhibit sufficient creativity to render the Work copyrightable. Rather, the evocation of an eyeball in the Work does not amount to materially more than the layering of one uncopyrightable geometric shape upon another. See Feist, 499 U.S. at 359 (“There remains a narrow category of Works in which the creative spark is utterly lacking or so trivial as to be virtually nonexistent.”). Therefore, this basic and elemental rendering of an eyeball does not generate the necessary creative expression. Relatedly, the decision to center common and familiar shapes within a standard industry design does not exhibit the creativity to support a registration."  (The full refusal letter is shown below.)

Okay, so Twitter no doubt paid a small fortune for some designer to create this logo, it managed to pass muster at the USPTO, and the Copyright Office slammed it by relegating it to the “narrow category of Works in which the creative spark is utterly lacking or so trivial as to be virtually nonexistent.”
But aren't logos supposed to be simple but memorable?  This and other Copyright refusals on logos leaves me thinking there should be a Copyright category specifically for logos.  Trademark exists to protect logos, but Copyright has other protections.

Years ago, I did tech work at one of the most famous art museums in the world.  As part of my work there, I attended hundreds of lectures about art, architecture, design, art conservation, etc.  The lectures about modern art works were especially enlightening for me.  There would be an incredibly simple design, or what looked like a sloppy smearing of paint.  The lecturer would explain the process and the meaning of the art work, and by the end of the lecture, I would have a much greater appreciation for the work of art.

I think perhaps the Periscope logo fits into this same category of modern art.  I see it as simple, but elegant.  Maybe the Copyright Board lacks appreciation for modern art and design.  Have the people at the Copyright Board making these decisions had any formal training in art and design, or have they simply been educated in Copyright law and precedent?  Under the logic of their decision, a gaudy busy design, which could be considered very poor by logo design standards, would most likely be considered worthy of copyright protection.

Copyright law does not allow several things to be considered in whether to grant Copyright on a work of art.  The amount of time, work, effort, and money it took to create the work cannot be considered.  The underlying meaning or connotation cannot be considered.  That rules out all those meanings explained by art appreciation lecturers.  To an art lecturer, the eyeball shape in the Periscope logo might represent the individual's view of the world around him or her, but at the Copyright Office, it is an eyeball shape, stock, and not protectible by Copyright.

This might seem like a simple matter, but quite a few other logos have been denied Copyright, even if they have been given a Trademark certificate, which is no small feat in itself.  There is a bit of a logo crisis.

What protections does Copyright offer a logo that cannot be had by Trademark?  Try to think up examples.  The abuses that people can think up seem far-fetched, until they happen.  For example, someone could probably take the Periscope logo design shown above and print it on notebooks, clothing, umbrellas, or toys.  The Trademark only protects the logo in its use to designate the source of those online services in the description.  The logo in itself is not a protected design, does not have Copyright.

I propose that the Copyright office and/or Copyright law create a new category of two dimensional visual art work specifically for logos.  Logos should be simple.  Logos should be memorable, and thus, should relate to images already known.  Logos will often consist of an arrangement of other elements that in themselves, cannot have copyright, such as letters and shapes.  I propose that a logo department of the Copyright office would be staffed by people who are trained in art and design, as well as trained in Copyright law.  They would be trained to understand and appreciate simplicity of design.