The United States Patent & Trademark Office is, generally speaking, a pretty reliable government agency. It generates its own revenue in the form of trademark and patent filing fees. This allows it to stay open, even during government shutdowns in the recent past. The USPTO occasionally suffers from I.T. issues around its electronic filing system. There was also that ill-advised political tweet, for which it faced some scrutiny. But overall, the organization runs very efficiently. However, recently there have been significant USPTO delays in the processing of trademark filings. Trademark applicants should be aware that these delays may impact the amount of time it takes for registration.
USPTO Delays in Processing Applications
The most critical stage of the registration process for applicants is the initial review of a trademark application. This is when the Trademark Office first looks at your application and determines whether it will be approved, or if there are issues that must be addressed. Regardless of whether the news is good or bad, applicants just want an answer, and they want it as quickly as possible. Under normal circumstances, most trademark applications are reviewed within about 3-4 months after they are filed. With the current USPTO delays, it is taking substantially longer for these reviews to take place.
As I write this post on 2/25/2021, it appears that the USPTO is now reviewing applications that were filed around the end of September 2020. While about an extra month for review may not sound like a long time, it can feel like an eternity for hopeful applicants. Right now I do not have a real feel for whether that review time is becoming longer or shorter. I have read that the USPTO is hiring and trying to bring that time down as quickly as possible, though.
Office Action Responses
While the USPTO delays in reviewing applications is somewhat easier to track, there have also been significant delays in processing responses to office actions. In my experience, these have been all over the place. Typically, I expect any office action responses to be reviewed in less than a month, and much less in many cases. While I still see some responses handled quickly (in 1-2 weeks), there are others that have taken 2-3 months! These delays are also significant, and can add months onto the time that it takes to obtain your federal trademark registration.
Causes of USPTO Delays
So why are things seeming to break down right now? Most people would probably guess that Covid-19 is the culprit. And while I’m sure that has played a role, the fact is that most Trademark Examining Attorneys were already working remotely before the pandemic. Instead, the delays are mostly attributable to a large and unexpected increase in the number of applications that were filed last year.
First, there was a dramatic increase in the number of trademark applications coming from China in 2020. In 2019, the USPTO made a rule that foreign applicants must be represented by attorneys here in the United States. This was in an effort to prevent fraudulent filings. Regardless of whether the rule was successful, the number of filings from Chinese businesses and individuals greatly increased last year.
In addition, 2020 may have been a big year for trademark filings precisely because of the pandemic. This may just be a theory, but many believe that when people lost their jobs temporarily or permanently because of Covid-19, they turned to their “side gig” as a potential full-time replacement. As a result, more people may have filed applications to protect the brands of businesses in which they otherwise would not have chosen to invest.
Want to Get Started with Trademark Registration?
While it may take longer to get a trademark registration than before, the date that really matters is your application filing date. This saves your place “in line” at the Trademark Office, regardless of how long registration might take. If you are interested in getting a head start on your application, please feel free to call me at (314) 479-3668, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete the contact form found on this page to schedule your free initial consultation today. I look forward to speaking with you.