Protecting Your Brand and Trademarks in the Cannabis Space Following the 2018 Farm Bill
The 2018 Farm Bill relaxed restrictions covering hemp-based cannabis products, and it is causing a shift in business strategies in the industry. Instead of a full prohibition of trademark registrations covering cannabis goods or services, a narrow range of filings is now permitted, so long as they conform to the requirements of the Farm Bill and the latest USPTO guidelines. While the regulatory framework is still being developed, cannabis-related business owners who could not previously receive federal trademark protection are now reconsidering their trademark strategies.
The principal change from the 2018 Farm Bill is that while all cannabis products derived from marijuana are still prohibited by federal law under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), those derived from hemp are now permitted, albeit still tightly regulated. Hemp-based cannabis products are defined as those that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana. Accordingly, certain products and services derived from hemp are now legal under federal law, and the USPTO has published guidelines that allow narrow federal trademark registrations covering them.
The USPTO had previously refused any trademark application that covered cannabis products or services. In response, many businesses have filed state-law trademark applications in jurisdictions in which marijuana has been legalized, although this provides only limited protection. Businesses have also tried to circumvent the federal prohibition by filing for goods and services tangentially related to marijuana or cannabis, such as apothecary or pharmacy services for medical marijuana, or services for the provision of information and/or advocacy for cannabis and its uses. The policy at the federal level is still to refuse these applications that cover goods and services that are legal on their face but are in fact related to marijuana. But that policy is now moot for certain hemp-related applications that conform to the new guidelines.
Even for applicants that have succeeded in registering trademarks for cannabis-based products under facially legal goods and services descriptions, attempts to enforce these marks can be hollow. During the course of litigation, it may become clear that the activities of the trademark owner are not permitted under federal law. These registrations are still valuable to block other filers as well as to signal that a business is adopting and is willing to enforce a particular mark, but the new USPTO regulations can provide substantially more protection to businesses that sell qualifying hemp-related products or services.
Under the new USPTO guidelines, marks covering hemp-based cannabis products and services are permitted to be registered as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC and are otherwise legal under federal law. Accordingly, there are certain exceptions and requirements, which include the following:
The new guidelines also allow for applicants to amend pending applications covering cannabis products to conform to the new requirements. To do so, the applicant must limit the list of goods and services to products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC and submit any required documents showing that the goods and services covered are legal. The application’s filing date would also be amended to coincide with the legalization of hemp-based products, and the USPTO would conduct a new search of the register for prior marks to account for the later filing date.
Under the new regulations, cannabis businesses should consult a trademark attorney to consider their options to protect their trademarks on a federal level. Although the law is in flux and uncertainty abounds, there are several points from a trademark-filing strategy perspective to keep in mind when considering filings under the new guidelines:
The new marijuana legalization framework being put in place state by state, most recently in Illinois, has raised more questions than answers in the state-regulatory sphere. However, until now, the federal guidelines were clear, as all cannabis-related products were prohibited under federal law. After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, this is no longer the case. As the law in the cannabis sphere unfolds, businesses should work closely with a trademark attorney to explore options for protecting their valuable brands.
Link to article
- EU Removes UAE from Tax Blacklist
- Sustainability Reporting: To What End?
- UAE Ministry of Finance Issues Guidance on Economic Substance Regulations
- Dubai: Changes to the Fines that can be Applied by the Public Prosecutors’ Department
WSG Member: Please login to add your comment.