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Category Archives: Trademarks

The Great State Divide—Cannabidiol Restrictions to Cannabis Trademarks

Posted on: November 20th, 2017 by Zarley Law

While the use, possession, sale, cultivation and transportation of cannabis, a Schedule 1 substances, is illegal under federal law, the government has made clear that if a state passes a law to decriminalize cannabis for recreational or medical use, it can do so, as long as a regulatory system is in place. Navigating between state and federal laws regulating the growth, usage, and sale of marijuana is a difficult task as it is, but before the state versus federal regulatory analysis can even begin, practitioners must first consider the wide variation occurring in state legislatures.

Currently, eight states provide a broad allowance of marijuana including legalization of both recreational and medicinal.[1] Twenty nine states, including those that allow recreational usage, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam, have broadly legalized medical marijuana.[2] Almost all of the states allowing marijuana in some form do have limitations on the amount to be possessed, registration, transportation of, types–including whether psychoactive or non-psychoactive, uses and cultivation. Most narrowly, in three states, Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota and two inhabited territories, marijuana possession and sales for any use are illegal and prohibited entirely. [3]

Let’s take a look at some recent events happening in two very distinct states.

Recently, the Iowa legislature recognized that while it is advantageous to allow immediate access to cannabis oil, before April 2017, there was no way for Iowans to get access to CBD (smoking marijuana is still prohibited). The Iowa GOP sought to change this circumstance by adding provisions to the law calling for in-state production system for cannabis oil that would also allow partnerships between other states and Iowa in order to bring out-of-state distributors into Iowa.[4] Now, however, the Iowa Attorney General’s office advised the Iowa Department of Public Health that it should not implement this portion of the law until the federal government “provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs.”[5] The advisement has been heavily criticized by many people in need of medicinal marijuana within the state, and by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. The pro-marijuana group reasons that the requirements for in state or multi state licensing schemes simply overcomplicates a simply need for Iowans. Thankfully, the law does still provide for two cannabis oil manufacturers in Iowa and up to five dispensaries to sell it in state–i.e., the oil could be supplied in Iowa by the end of 2018. The topic still remains heavily debated in the Iowa legislature.

In contrast, California was the first stated in the United States to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. As of November 8, 2016, California legalized the sale and distribution of cannabis in both a dry and concentrated form for adults up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational use and adults are also allowed to grow up to six live plants individually, or more commercially with a license. As of February, the state’s projected legal marijuana business is in excess of $18 billion dollars. With such substantial monetary value, California is actively taking federal regulation on all fronts of protection of their business into consideration. Until recently, it has been near impossible to receive a trademark on any cannabis product due to the USPTO’s restriction on trademarking only uses that would constitute “lawful use in commerce.”

For example, the brand “Hi”, under it’s parent company, Cannabis Sativa Inc., has been unsuccessful in trademarking their massage oil and Hi Releaf pain-relief balm. However, they may be able to find success by trademarking goods other than the illegal substance itself, such as hats, t-shirts, and other apparel. This is not ideal, however, because while other companies will be barred from using the brand on similar products, Cannabis Sativa Inc., might not be able to stop rivals from setting up Hi-brand marijuana shops or from selling knockoff Hi-brand products. Worse, in order to maintain the limited trademark that Cannabis Sativa Inc. may acquire, Hi-brand will have to keep using the products listed for the trademark–even if those products are not successful or profitable.

Another useful strategy that many other cannabis-related businesses than adopted is applying for trademarks relating to rolling papers for by providing cannabis information that will be enough of a hint that a company has laid claim to a cannabis-related trademark. As such, practitioners must craft applications wisely and advise their clients to include and maintain their particular trademark.

In addition to trademark, another alternative to solve this inconsistency with “lawful use” requirements is to seek a patent. Because there is no lawful use requirement for patents, it appears unlikely that the PTO would refuse to grant such a plant patent simply because growing cannabis is till illegal under federal law.

California’s lawmakers are taking a third route by currently proposing an amendment to California’s trademark laws that will aim to fill the gap between California’s pioneer status in the legalization of marijuana and the ability to trademark brands and businesses based on legal marijuana products. If adopted, the amendment would allow California state trademark registrations for cannabis products as of January 1, 2018. Washington, Oregon and Colorado have already allowing for registration of cannabis related marks, recognizing that federal trademark law does not preempt state common law.

AS of now, businesses trying to protect trademarks of cannabis and cannabis products really only have the option of trademark protection at common law, or through state registrations. While the fate of cannabis use in various forms is uncertain under the current federal regime, what is known is that in order to properly advise a cannabis business owner and entrepreneur, all practitioners must evaluate their client’s needs against the wide spectrum of state regulations. Perhaps as more sates codify trademark protections and classifications like Washington, Oregon and Colorado have done, national law will follow.

[1] Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington

[2] Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland

[3] Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota

[4] Barbra Rodriguez, AP, September 10, 2017

[5] Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office stated in an email.

Spotlight: Brandon Adams Lands the Cover of Inventors Digest

Posted on: July 9th, 2015 by Zarley Law

We first met with Brandon Adams in 2012, during the preparation and filing of his first patent and trademark applications.  This young man’s exceptional ambition to innovate has continued to grow over the past few years, and has now been recognized on the cover of the July 2015 edition of Inventors Digest.  The magazine tells of his entrepreneurial journey.

Brandon’s first patent-protected invention, the Arctic Stick®, has received national recognition and the backing of a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Brandon’s drive is not limited to inventing for himself, however.  He also strives to help others in their entrepreneurial aspirations.  In 2015, Brandon founded the University of Young Entrepreneurs (UYE), an online resource for those who want to “create something great and become unforgettable!”  The UYE podcast has recently landed in the top 50 most influential new business podcasts.

In Brandon’s most recent podcast, he discusses the story of getting on the cover of Inventors Digest.  We were pleased to hear that on his way to making the cover that Zarley Law played an important role in helping Brandon move his ideas forward.

Look for Brandon’s cover story and the Inventors Digest publication t0 be available online in the near future.

Well, that .SUCKS! A New Domain could Harm your Brand

Posted on: March 22nd, 2015 by Josh Conley

Starting March 30th, the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) “.sucks” will be available for registration.  The most commonly known gTLD’s are .com, .net, and .edu.  The new .sucks  gTLD is one of over a thousand new and forthcoming gTLD’s approved by the non-profit corporation, ICANN, which oversees the unique identifiers commonly referred to as domain names.

The creators of the .sucks domain, Vox Populi, state their vision for the gTLD in the following positive and glowing terms, “By building an easy-to-locate, ‘central town square’ available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dotSucks is designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism. Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of every organization’s customer relationship management program.”

Early registration of a .sucks domain by a brand owner comes at a high cost of $2,499.

Not everyone is so optimistic as many trademark, website, and brand owners see the roll-out of .sucks as having a nefarious intent aimed at extorting funds from legitimate business owners through exorbitant registration fees.  Some individuals and companies are being proacticve about the release.  For instance, Taylor Swift is reported to have bought TaylorSwift.sucks to add to her existing defensive domain purchases of TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult.

Being proactive, however, comes at a price.  In accordance with ICANN rules, the purchase of .sucks domains will begin on March 30th with trademark owners having first picks at a high cost of $2,499 for a Sunrise Registration, which must be renewed each year for $2,499.  To take advantage of the Sunrise Registration, brand owners will need to register with ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH).

On June 30th, Standard Registration opens up and domains will go on a first come, first served basis.  The pricing during Standard Registration will depend upon various factors, with the standard registration being $249 which must be renewed each year for $249.

Regardless of how you feel about .sucks, the reality is that anyone will soon be able to own a .sucks domain.  This should cause everyone to pause to consider the ramifications that a .sucks domain may have on their business.  If a domain is scooped up during Standard Registration, it may be nearly impossible to takedown a critical domain owner if the domain is used for “fair use” or First Amendment purposes of criticism or parody.

Ultimately, brand owners have two options: (1) pay the exorbitant fees to defensively register a .sucks domain, thereby blocking any others from doing so, or (2) take their chances.  To many, neither will seem like a good option.

Japan and Canada Modifying Trademark Laws

Posted on: March 22nd, 2015 by Josh Conley

Recently, Japan and Canada announced upcoming changes to their respective trademark laws.  These forthcoming changes add broader protection and greater flexibility to each country’s respective trademark laws.


Canada is preparing for a number of significant changes to their trademark system that will take effect sometime in 2016.  As part of a trade agreement with the European Union, Canada will be joining the Madrid Protocol, which allows Canada to be included in international trademark strategies in a simpler and more cost-efficient manner.

Canada will also be adopting the Nice classification system that is used in a large number of countries.  Adopting the international classification of goods and services under the Nice system could result in some marks being required to update to their current classification to be compliant.

The adoption of the Singapore Treaty will also be impacting Canadian trademark laws.  By implementing the Singapore Treaty, the renewal term for a mark will be dropped from 15 years to 10 years.


Although not as dramatic on the international field, Japan is expanding protection to less conventional forms of marks as part of its new Trademark Act that goes into effect April 1, 2015.  Japan will now allow for the protection of sound marks, moving marks, color marks, hologram marks, and position marks.  Although some of these types of marks are self explanatory some are not as clear.  A moving mark covers a mark that has a particular animation.  A position mark covers marks that are present in particular situations, such as the coveted red found on the bottom of Christian Louboutin shoes.

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