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How Online Trademark Registries May Impact Your Business

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Today, business owners are more reliant on the internet than ever before. Widespread access to the internet has changed the way nearly every business owner operates. Whether you are a sole proprietor or the owner of a large corporation, the internet has directly and indirectly impacted your business in a myriad of ways. In fact, the internet is so integrated into the way American companies do business that it can difficult to fully gauge how large the effect actually is. It can take effort to fully consider how deeply the internet affects our daily lives, both personally and professionally. You may even have to consciously remind yourself that you’re reading this article online! Connecting your business to the world via the internet may have consequences (both positive and negative) that you haven’t considered.

Obviously, a vast majority of companies use the internet to manage their operations, make purchases, make sales, communicate internally, and market to customers. These are all intentional methods of harnessing the powers of the World Wide Web to benefit your business. Of course, there is an almost infinite number of ways you can utilize the internet to grow your business and your brand. For example, you may use the internet to protect your intellectual property (IP) portfolio, including your trademarks. As government agencies, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), continue to adapt to the internet, legal and administrative matters will be handled online more often. As that happens, some businesses will face an increased risk that their data may be exposed online.

The USPTO Database

Within the last two decades, the USPTO has made great strides to create and maintain an online trademark database. This online database, known as the Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS, is free to use and open to the public. This means that anyone can look up who owns a trademark on the TESS website. It also means that trademark holders can monitor their trademarks and those of their competitors. This monitoring effort is crucial to protecting a business from trademark infringement, which occurs when another business attempts to use a company’s branding in a similar market and manner.

The USPTO created and implemented TESS for the public’s ease of use. Rather than having to go through various employees at the agency to access trademark information, TESS allows people and businesses to find important trademark information when they need it the most. Fast access to this kind of essential data is the primary benefit of this online system. In fact, when USPTO first announced the creation of TESS in 2000, it stated “[f]or the first time, the public will have access within 24 hours of entry to the same trademark data as the PTO’s examining attorneys.” Since then, the system has only gotten faster, more reliable, and easier to use.

Online Trademark Data and Privacy

We know, however, that any time a reliable source of data is accessible to the public, there are going to be some drawbacks. While TESS allows trademark holders to monitor their IP in the system and allows others to conduct vital trademark research, the system is also open to those who may misuse the available data. A number of data companies mine the TESS, along with other online government registries, for business data. These companies then repackage and sell that data to public and private customers. Generally speaking, there are far fewer legal restrictions on selling business data compared to personal data, such as your date of birth or home address. Without regulations, it is very easy for these data mining companies to access your business data, available through TESS, and then sell it to other companies.

Of course, data mining itself is not inherently malicious, and many data companies provide legitimate, valuable services using publicly available data. However, there are a number of fraudulent companies that access trademark and IP data directly from TESS or through a data reseller. These fraudulent companies are looking for ways to use your business data, including your contact information and data about your trademark, against you. One recent example of this type of misuse occurred when some companies started accessing trademark registration data online and then attempted to alter the trademark holder’s file with the USPTO. For example, the USPTO recently reported an increased number of third parties attempting to make unauthorized changes to trademark holders’ online application files. These third parties were able to access the file through the USPTO’s online system, gather the trademark holder’s or applicant’s email address, and then attempt to use that email to make changes to the file. You can read more about this problem in our article, here. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission also recently issued a warning about scammers getting a trademark holder’s contact information from TESS and using it to sell the holder fraudulent services.

These issues raise a number of privacy concerns that cannot be resolved overnight. However, business owners can take steps to protect their online data while also still gaining the benefits of using the USPTO’s trademark registry and online application system. One way to protect your company’s trademark data is by letting your trademark attorney handle the application and registration process. By doing so, you know someone that you trust has access to your confidential information and can protect that information throughout the trademark application process. Additionally, your trademark attorney can carefully monitor communications from the USPTO and your file and flag any potentially fraudulent changes to that data.

Online Trademark Registries Can Be Good for Business

While the USPTO controls the official database of U.S. trademarks, there are a number of other online trademark registries out there. One such registry is operated by another federal government agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The CBP database helps the government and businesses alike monitor and prevent trademark infringement in imported goods.

In addition to the government registries, there are online registries operated by private businesses. Perhaps the most popular of these is Amazon Brand Registry. As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon hosts billions of goods listings around the world. The Amazon Brand Registry allows companies to protect their brand on Amazon’s site by verifying their status as a trademark holder. Through its participation with the Brand Registry, a trademark holder can prove when counterfeit goods are infringing on its intellectual property rights. When that occurs, the trademark holder can notify Amazon of the infringing listing and have it removed. Being on the Amazon Brand Registry and other online trademark registries can allow your business to exert more control over your trademark in the ever-expanding online marketplace.

The Internet is an Ever-Changing Tool

As the internet and access to data continue to evolve, new mechanisms for registering your business’ trademarks and monitoring their infringement are always developing. Take a look at our in-depth article about how blockchain is changing the future of trademark registration. Using this new technology, online registration and intellectual property monitoring are easier and more secure than ever before.

Make Sure You’ve Got Someone Looking Out for Your Business Interests

The key to benefitting from online trademark registries is to ensure that someone is keeping a close eye on your IP. After all, you worked hard to secure your trademark and build your brand. Monitoring your trademark and protecting your business data online can be daunting, so call on the experts at The Brand Protected® for help. Our experienced IP attorneys know what it takes to protect your trademark in the digital age. We can provide practical advice on managing privacy concerns while still maximizing the benefits of building your online brand through the use of your trademark. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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