Now that California is set to give licenses to cannabis operators, you may be wondering -- can cannabis companies get trademarks yet? The answer is more complicated than you may expect.
Your instincts are right; it’s time to start planning for the future. And to do that, you need to develop a brand that you can protect and your consumers can depend upon.
Yet the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has expressly, and repeatedly, affirmed that that it will deny registration of any “marijuana” or “cannabis” related goods or services. You can read that decision here. The basis for this policy is the Controlled Substances Act; so long as the sale of marijuana is classified as federally illegal, the USPTO considers the use of such marks in commerce as “not lawful” and thus not entitled to protection. Proposition 64 and California’s medical marijuana laws, as changes in state law, do not affect the Board’s policy regarding federal registration. That means that properly licensed cannabis companies that sell cannabis-related goods and services in 100% compliance with California law are still not engaging in a “lawful” use in commerce according to the USPTO. Cannabis companies seeking protection from California run into the same problem as Sacramento has decided to follow the USPTO’s policy.
However, there are still ways for a cannabusiness owner to protect their intellectual property assets. One emerging strategy is to trademark a number of other goods and services that use your mark, but do not use or primarily facilitate use of the federally banned substance itself. These types of goods can range from t-shirts to oils – anything that does not constitute “drug paraphernalia” that “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 the CSA.” Registering trademarks for these ancillary goods and services puts the owner in a better strategic position for the future; when federal restrictions finally lift, the owner will have a strong claim to the mark as residing in their “natural zone of expansion.” This tactic puts the trademark owner on the offensive, putting any would-be pirates and infringers on notice.
There is reason to keep an eye on the California Legislature, too. Soon enough, owners may be able to use the state trademark registration process. Though state trademarks will not convey national-level protection, they will cover the state of California. Recently, the California Legislature has considered adding statutory language in AB-64 that would provide new trademark classes in California for:
- (500): for goods that are cannabis or cannabis products, including medicinal cannabis or medicinal cannabis products.
- (501): for services related to cannabis or cannabis products, including medicinal cannabis or medicinal cannabis products.
We are doing a series of posts on cannabis trademarks and cannabis IP. Check back for more next week.