You’ve registered a trademark with the USPTO, but have you made subsequent Section 8 (after 5 years) and Section 9 filings (after 9 years) to maintain your trademark? If not, the USPTO will cancel your trademark. This article summarizes the three key trademark maintenance requirements every business owner should know.
The idea of taking the time and effort to maintain the property we own certainly isn’t a foreign concept. We know we need to perform maintenance and repairs on our personal residences and other real estate holdings in order to preserve their value. We change the oil and get regular tune-ups to make sure our cars are running smooth. Our clients even know that it is important to perform maintenance on a business entity to preserve its corporate veil protection.
However, when it comes to items of intellectual property, such as registered trademarks, I am consistently surprised by how many owners are blissfully unaware of the need to perform any maintenance. Nevertheless, just like you dutifully take your car into Jiffy Lube every 3000 miles, and put a fresh coat of paint on your little rental property every few years, you must take steps to maintain your registered trademark … or risk losing your rights altogether.
There are three key maintenance steps that every trademark owner should be aware of.
1. Section 8 Filing – “Declaration of Continued Use” or “Declaration of Excusable Nonuse”
The federal government likes to see that registered trademarks are being used. The reasoning behind this is that the government doesn’t want to prohibit a name or logo that is the subject of a registered trademark from being used in the marketplace if the trademark owner itself is not using that name or logo in the marketplace. In order to police this, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) periodically requires trademark owners to file a Declaration of Continued Use or Declaration of Excusable Nonuse (both known as “Section 8 Filings”).
The initial Section 8 Filing is due between the 5th and 6th years after the date your trademark was registered. For example, if the registration date of your trademark is January 1, 2010, then your initial Section 8 Filing is due between January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2016. The filing fee is $100 per class of goods or services covered by the trademark. You can file up to six months late, but the USPTO will charge a late fee for this indulgence. Please also note that if you fail to make your Section 8 Filing within this time, your trademark registration will be cancelled. There is no opportunity to “reinstate” or “revive” your trademark. You will need to file a completely new application to register the trademark again.
If you are still using the trademark in commerce when the first Section 8 Filing comes due, then you will file a Declaration of Continued Use. If you are not using the trademark in commerce when the first Section 8 Filing comes due, but you still plan on using the trademark, then you will need to file a Declaration of Excusable Nonuse.
In general, for your nonuse of your trademark to be considered “excusable,” the nonuse must be temporary, and you will need to clearly demonstrate how circumstances have prevented use of the mark in commerce and what efforts you are making to resume use. Note that nonuse due to the decreased demand for a product does not by itself constitute “excusable nonuse.”
Subsequent Section 8 Filings are due between the 9th and 10th years after the registration date, and between every 9th and 10th year after the registration date thereafter. So, again, if the registration date of your trademark is January 1, 2010, then your subsequent Section 8 Filings will be due between January 1, 2019 and January 1, 2020, then again between January 1, 2029 and January 1, 2030, and so on. The same six month grace period applies to subsequent Section 8 Filings.
2. Section 9 Filing – “Application for Renewal”
The second trademark maintenance requirement to be aware of is the Application for Renewal (a.k.a. the “Section 9 Filing”). This filing is due between the 9th and 10th years after the registration date, and between every 9th and 10th year after the registration date thereafter, with the same six month grace period as the Section 8 Filing. This filing schedule will coincide with your second and each subsequent Section 8 Filing. Realizing this, the USPTO has created the handy “Combined Declaration of Use in Commerce & Application for Renewal of Registration of a Mark Under Sections 8 & 9” which will allow you to complete your Section 8 and Section 9 Filings together. The filing fee for the Section 9 filing is $300 per class of goods or services covered by your trademark, which makes the filing fee for the combined Section 8 and Section 9 form $400 per class of goods or services. As with Section 8, failure to make your Section 9 filing within the specified time period will result in the cancellation of your trademark registration.
3. Section 15 Filing – “Declaration of Incontestability”
The third trademark filing to be aware of is the Declaration of Incontestability (a.k.a. the “Section 15 Filing”). Unlike the Section 8 and Section 9 Filings, the Section 15 Filing is not mandatory. It is completely optional, and your trademark registration will not be cancelled if you fail to file it.
The Section 15 Filing is a sworn statement claiming “incontestable” rights in the mark for the goods or services specified. An incontestable registration is conclusive evidence of: 1) the validity of the trademark; 2) the registration of the mark; 3) the owner’s ownership of the mark; and 4) the owner’s exclusive right to use the mark in association with the goods or services. The practical effect of this is that in litigation involving an incontestable registration, it is conclusively presumed that the registered mark is valid – i.e., that it is either inherently distinctive or has acquired secondary meaning. As such, a defendant accused of infringing an incontestable trademark cannot defend itself by claiming that the mark is merely descriptive and lacks secondary meaning. This can be a huge advantage in going after anyone who infringes against your trademark.
In addition to the fee, the Section 15 Filing must contain the following:
- The registration number and the date of registration; and
- A statement that:
- the mark has been in continuous use in commerce for a period of five years subsequent to the date of registration, on or in connection with the goods/services recited in the registration and is still in use in commerce;
- there has been no final decision adverse to the owner’s claim of ownership of the mark for the goods/services, or to the owner’s right to register the mark or to keep the same on the register; and
- there is no proceeding involving the claimed rights pending in the USPTO or in a court of law and not finally disposed of.
A Section 15 Filing cannot be made until the trademark has been in continuous use in commerce for at least five consecutive years subsequent to the date of registration. This means the earliest you could make a Section 15 Filing for your trademark would be exactly five years after the date it was registered. The filing fee for a Section 15 Filing is $300 per class of goods or services covered by the trademark.
Please reach out to me by phone or email if you are concerned about the maintenance of your trademark, or if you would like to discuss how registering a trademark can protect the brand identity you have worked so hard to establish in your business.
Jarom Bergeson is an associate attorney with Kyler Kohler Ostermiller, and Sorensen, LLP (“KKOS Lawyers”) in its Cedar City, Utah office and has extensive experience in helping client register their trademark and protecting their brand identity. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (888) 801-0010.