INTA members met again this month with USPTO officials and examining attorneys at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, for the 2015 INTA/USPTO Industry Training Seminar organized by INTA’s Government Officials Education and Training Committee. This year’s training program provided the USPTO examining attorneys and officials with an opportunity to hear directly from brand owners with regard to trademark protection issues involving the Internet of Things (IoT), an informally interconnected group of physical objects, people and even animals that have been embedded with unique electronic identifiers that transfer data over a network without human interaction. The training featured multimedia presentations from Catherine Mennenga of General Electric, Tess Casey of Flanagan of Under Armour, Inc. and Amanda Conti-Duhaime of Fiat Chrysler (FCA US LLC), who participated in an energetic panel discussion moderated by Mark Stein of Mark Stein Law.
In a morning session attended by examining attorneys, the three panelists provided distinct perspectives on the developing field of IoT. Catherine Mennenga of General Electric highlighted the forces shaping the “Industrial Internet,” and particularly how embedded software products and related services optimize the performance of industrial equipment, such as in aviation, in power generation and in the oil and gas industry, and also how embedded software products increase the value of massive amounts of data in manufacturing and infrastructure. Tess Casey Flanagan of Under Armour provided an overview of the increasing overlap between fitness apparel and the electronically connected devices that consumers use every day and also provided a glimpse of some of the products consumers will see in the near future. Finally, Amanda Conti-Duhaime emphasized the effects of the “connected vehicle” on diverse components of the automobile industry—from entertainment systems to insurance to consumerization of vehicle data.
These distinct viewpoints on IoT issues provided examining attorneys with a helpful backdrop to the different branding approaches taken by each of the panelists’ companies. While the panelists agreed that IoT products add value and therefore drive development of trademarks in their industries, the customer environment faced by each company necessitated different branding approaches. For General Electric, the central focus of its IoT branding is a single but highly customizable software and online services platform designed to optimize assets and reduce downtime for its business-to-business market. Similarly, Fiat Chrysler offers its IoT product line under a single brand used for its “connected vehicle” products and services, although automobile owners are offered a diverse set of features and services under that brand. Finally, Under Armour is developing a more diverse set of IoT brands, with separate brands mapped to athletes’ and consumers’ tracking, performance and training objectives.
The three panelists also provided comments to the USPTO examiners on practical difficulties that they, as trademark owners, face in managing their trademark protection and maintenance programs before the USPTO. Of particular concern were the problems locating traditional specimens when goods comprise sensors or technical features embedded in finished products or software programs. To highlight these difficulties, the panelists shared specific specimen materials associated with their IoT goods and discussed circumstances in which it was difficult to obtain specimen material acceptable to the USPTO. In addition, recitations for IoT goods and services can be challenging because of the novelty of the products and continued rapid technological change in the field. It’s often not clear how broadly to file and where technology will take products in the future. In a set of specific examples, the panelists provided examiners with comments and background on trademark identifications used for their IoT goods and services filings with the USPTO and discussed the overlap between different international classes.
The morning session was followed by a discussion session between the panelists and USPTO supervisors and staff. In this session, the USPTO supervisors and staff posed a number of questions to INTA attendees to assess the USPTO’s performance as perceived by brand owners and the trademark practitioner community. There was a high level of participation by both INTA and USPTO attendees in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
The USPTO officials expressed their thanks to INTA for a well-organized and informative program. INTA and the USPTO look forward to continued cooperation at future events.