Earlier today, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) announced that it finally has applied to register its own trademarks. Founded in 1975, the USPTO has roots dating back to the late 1700s, when George Washington signed the first U.S. patent. Despite its longstanding role in helping others protect their intellectual property rights, the USPTO had not previously sought to register its own trademark rights.
The USPTO is taking this step to help it combat the rash of fraudulent trademark solicitations issued by unscrupulous third parties. Using names like “Patent and Trademark Office” and “Patent & Trademark Bureau,” these third party solicitations have the appearance of official USPTO communications. They typically ask trademark owners to send payment in order to maintain their trademark filings, and many trademark owners have mistakenly sent payments in response, believing they were communicating with the USPTO. While the USPTO is able to rely on its unregistered (“common law”) trademark rights to combat these infringing uses, it is well aware that federal registration confers significant benefits that common law rights do not. Among those benefits is the legal presumption that the rights of a federal trademark registrant are valid, and that federally registered rights extend throughout the United States. Registering its trademarks will strengthen the USPTO’s position against these infringers, and help it to protect registrants from fraud.