01.26.10

Leahy To Introduce Bill To Ease Burdens On Trademark Owners

Morrisville Microbrewery Prompts Provision To Study Trademark Misuse By Big Businesses

WASHINGTON – Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will introduce legislation later today to help assist trademark owners in maintaining the protection of their brands.  The legislation makes technical and confirming amendments to the nation’s trademark laws, and is supported by the Obama administration.  Members in the House of Representatives are expected to introduce similar legislation today.  Many small Vermont businesses that hold trademarks will benefit from improving the efficiency of the system. 

“This legislation is focused on the process for maintaining trademark protection,” said Leahy.  “It is a targeted bill that will improve the efficiency of the trademark maintenance system.   Inefficiencies cost businesses money, which can lead to higher prices for consumers and can cost workers their jobs.  When Congress has an opportunity to take waste out of a government process, it should do so, and that is what we are doing today.” 

The Trademark Law Technical and Confirming Amendments Act will harmonize the system for submitting maintenance filings to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Maintenance filings are required for continuing the protection of a trademark.  The legislation will also permit the Director of the USPTO to permit applicants to correct good faith and harmless errors and will make several technical amendments within our trademark laws.   

Included in the Leahy-authored legislation is a requirement for the Department of Commerce to study whether large corporations are misusing the trademark laws to harass small businesses by exaggerating the scope of their trademark protection.  Last year, Vermont’s Rock Art Brewery, a small microbrewery in Morrisville, Vermont, was the subject of such a case. 

“I am concerned that large corporations are at times abusing the substantial rights Congress has granted them in their intellectual property to the detriment of small businesses,” said Leahy.  “We saw a high-profile case like this in Vermont last year involving a spurious claim against Rock Art Brewery.  When a corporation exaggerates the scope of its rights far beyond a reasonable interpretation in an attempt to bully a small business out of the market, that is wrong.” 

Leahy’s legislation would require the Department of Commerce to report to Congress on any suggested policy changes to protect small businesses. 

Leahy has been a longtime advocate for protecting intellectual property, including patents and trademarks.  Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has in past years invited testimony from Vermont businesses, including Burton Snowboards and Diffraction Ltd., about the importance of protecting intellectual property. 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Committee On The Judiciary,
On The Trademark Law Technical and Conforming Amendments Act Of 2010
January 26, 2010
 

Today I am introducing legislation that will facilitate trademark owners’ maintenance of protection for their brands.  Trademark protection is critical both for businesses that have invested in creating a reliable product, and for consumers who trust a “brand name” product to be safe and of high quality.   

Last Congress, I authored legislation to provide our law enforcement community with the tools, resources, and intra-governmental coordination necessary to combat intellectual property theft.  Theft of intellectual property harms our businesses, weakens our economy, and costs jobs.  I am proud that the legislation, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization of Intellectual Property, or PRO-IP, Act, was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 21 Senators, and was signed into law. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee has held numerous hearings in recent years on the importance of intellectual property protection.  In 2004, Burton Snowboards, a successful Vermont business, testified before the Judiciary Committee about how small businesses were being harmed by the rise in intellectual property theft.  I am pleased that this administration is taking intellectual property protection seriously, and that it recognizes that effective enforcement of our intellectual property laws is an important component of our economic recovery. 

The legislation we are introducing today is focused on the process for maintaining trademark protection.  It is a targeted bill that will improve the efficiency of the trademark maintenance system.   Inefficiencies cost businesses money, which can lead to higher prices for consumers and can cost workers their jobs.  When Congress has an opportunity to take waste out of a government process, it should do so on a bipartisan basis.  That is what we are doing today.  This bill will harmonize the system for submitting maintenance filings to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Maintenance filings are required for continuing the protection of a trademark.  Our legislation will also permit the Director of the USPTO to permit applicants to correct good faith and harmless errors and will make several technical amendments within our trademark laws.   

This legislation also requires a study of how the current system can better protect small businesses from abuses of the trademark system by larger corporations.  Congress provides strong enforcement tools to intellectual property owners, as we should, to deter infringing activity and to remove counterfeit products from the market.  I have become concerned, however, that large corporations are at times abusing the substantial rights Congress has granted them in their intellectual property to the detriment of small businesses.  In fact, we saw a high-profile case like this in Vermont last year involving a spurious claim against Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville.  When a corporation exaggerates the scope of its rights far beyond a reasonable interpretation in an attempt to bully a small business out of the market, that is wrong.  This legislation therefore directs the Secretary of Commerce, in coordination with the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, to consider options for protecting small businesses from such harassing litigation, while ensuring that legitimate trademark infringement actions are handled efficiently and expeditiously by the courts.   

This is commonsense legislation.  I hope all Senators will support this bill. 

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