A recent University of North Carolina School of Law study demonstrated the significantly higher success rates for trademark applications handled by experienced trademark attorneys. The study has received attention in various publications and tries to quantify what most trademark attorneys know—experience matters. The study uses data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to assess the effect of experienced trademark practitioners versus others by comparing the numbers of published applications (i.e., when the PTO approves the application) and issued registrations. To take the study one step further, experienced practitioners know publication and registration are not the only barometers. These are measurable guideposts, but some published applications and registrations are not worth the paper on which they are printed or the value can be diminished by mistakes made in prosecution.
Publication and registration provide measurable data points; however, other harder to quantify barometers could include the downstream effect after publication and registration. Ask any experienced trademark attorney, and they will tell you about some common mistakes they see made by pro se applicants and inexperienced practitioners. Such errors result in significantly weaker registrations. For example, consider that while adopting the suggestions of the PTO Examining Attorney should result in approval, merely accepting these suggestions can result in unduly narrow or inappropriate descriptions of the goods/services, improper disclaimers, and the like, all of which affect the scope of protection and applicant’s valuable rights in the registration. As observed in the study, pro se applications have increased in recent years with TEAS and PTO outreach efforts to make TEAS more approachable. In theory, pro se applicants are more likely to follow the Examiner’s suggestions rather than “push back” to provide another appropriate response. Other common pitfalls include ill-advised or improper statements or amendments during prosecution, which also affect the strength and, potentially, the validity of any resulting registration. Infrequent filers are prone to such mistakes that can also result in lost filing fees and even filing dates, and some of these data points can at least be measured. Others, such as the undue complications and unduly narrow or questionable registrations, are just as real but much harder to quantify.