• Group called ‘Trademark Watch Dawgs’ challenges so-called frivolous marks
  • Facebook page has nearly 8,000 members, with crowdfund bringing in $1,700 a month
  • Founder tells WTR group that USPTO has “taken notice” of its protest efforts

Members of a rapidly-growing group of content creators are vowing to challenge “trademark bullies” and “frivolous applications” through evidence-gathering, protest letters and cancellation actions. In an exclusive interview with WTR, the founder of the group issued a stark warning to brand owners that “enough is enough”.

The ‘Trademark Watch Dawgs’ group was first set-up on Facebook in February 2018 by entrepreneurs in the e-commerce and print-on-demand merchandise space. The group has grown significantly in its first 12 months, with nearly 8,000 members and hundreds of comments posted daily. One of the group’s co-founders is Ken Reil, a full-time and well-respected merchandise content creator, who tells WTR that its origin was based on “developing frustrations with the trademark system and how it was affecting small business print-on-demand creators”.

What started as frustration developed into a full-blown movement following Reil’s discovery of trademark application letters of protest, which he believed could be crowdsourced to increase their impact. The hope, according to Reil, was to bring together content creators to give a larger voice to the print-on-demand apparel industry. “Our primary goal is to use the letters of protest to fight back against what we call ‘frivolous trademark applications’ and start to enact change in the way the USPTO allows these applications to proceed,” he explains. “To do that, members in the group work to compile evidence to submit letters of protest for common phrases that trademark trolls are trying to register. At the moment, the audience is primarily designers, content creators and small business owners of print-on-demand. Recently, though, we have had attorneys join the group as their clients have come up against our protest letters.”

Since launch, and spurred by its increasing membership, the Trademark Watch Dawgs have become more ambitious in their work. For example, the group now uses a full-time virtual assistant to help with evidence gathering, and has a Patreon page to crowdfund a legal counsel to seek cancellation of “frivolous trademarks that have been registered” (it currently brings in $1,700 a month to the group). They have also been successful multiple times in having trademark applications either refused at examination stage or cancelled following registration. For example, Reil spoke of an individual who sought registered trademark rights in the term MAMA BEAR for apparel goods and services. “This is a very common term in the graphic apparel industry [and] their goal was to monopolise or ‘kill off’ any other person using this term. We successfully pulled the application out of publication for opposition and to the rejected application stage. This was a win for all content creators for a term that does not have a verifiable source indicator.”

To date, then, the group has filed over 200 letters of protest, with more than 100 having been accepted and used for application reversals. That success is spurring grander visions to help change the actual trademark process, explains Reil. “As a group we would like to see the trademark process undergo a review – there is rampant abuse of applications using ‘apparel’ in class 25 at this time, with people filing for any phrase they can think of, and once they gain the registration they promptly proceed to takedown any use of the phrase in designs or keywords. During that time, they are ignoring the way a trademark is intended to function, and many of these so-called ‘trademark trolls’ do not even seek registered trademark protection for their own company brand. So we want to slow the wave of frivolous applications by putting applicants on notice that we will file against them, costing them the fees for failed filings. Our ultimate goal as a community is to bring all print-on-demand producers to the table and empower them to help us fight back against the cancer in our industry that are frivolous trademarks.”

Of course, to change the trademark process will require assistance from parties outside of the Trademark Watch Dawgs group itself, with a key partner being the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Reil tells us that, to date, the group has worked with the USPTO “to show how their system is being abused on a wide scale” and adds that he has heard positive feedback from the registry: “The USPTO has been very responsive to communications from our group. They openly discuss with members as they have been contacted, and they have been somewhat surprised by the volume of the letters of protest we have filed. In fact, we are making headway with the USPTO much sooner than we expected and, in our opinion, they have definitely taken notice of our efforts.”

While dialogue with the USPTO continues, Reil says the future for the Trademark Watch Dawgs group includes growing its membership, hiring additional virtual assistants, and eventually forming a legal entity to bring on attorneys to file official oppositions to applications and registration cancellations. “We have now completed enough actions to know this works,” he notes. “All in all, we are excited to continue the effort and bring to light an issue that is harming honest business owners. Ultimately, the frivolous filing of trademark registrations has to stop. We need to fight back against the trademark bullies in the industry. Trademark registration abuse has become rampant in the print-on-demand industry. All parties – including content creators, suppliers, the USPTO and the attorneys – need to take note and understand that enough is enough. As the movement grows, so too will the strength to fight back against fraudulent actions.”

This article first appeared in World Trademark Review. For further information please visit https://www.worldtrademarkreview.com/corporate/subscribe