The legislation purports to make some technical and confirming amendments to U.S. trademark lawsuit to help improve the efficiency of United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), including allowing applicants to correct good faith and harmless errors.
More interesting, however, is the requirement in the legislation for the Department of Commerce to study whether large corporations are misusing the trademark laws to harass small businesses by exaggerating the scope of their trademark protection and to report to Congress on any suggested policy changes to protect small businesses. Leahy’s press release statement focused on a particular dispute where Hansen Beverage Co., the maker of the Monster energy drink, sued Rock Art Brewery, a small microbrewery in Morrisville, Vermont (the state that Leahy represents) over its use of the name “The Vermonster” for one of its microbrews (news articles on the dispute here and here):
This legislation also requires a study of how the current system can better protect small businesses from abuses of the trademark system by larger corporations. Congress provides strong enforcement tools to intellectual property owners, as we should, to deter infringing activity and to remove counterfeit products from the market. I have become concerned, however, that large corporations are at times abusing the substantial rights Congress has granted them in their intellectual property to the detriment of small businesses. In fact, we saw a high-profile case like this in Vermont last year involving a spurious claim against Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville. When a corporation exaggerates the scope of its rights far beyond a reasonable interpretation in an attempt to bully a small business out of the market, that is wrong. This legislation therefore directs the Secretary of Commerce, in coordination with the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, to consider options for protecting small businesses from such harassing litigation, while ensuring that legitimate trademark infringement actions are handled efficiently and expeditiously by the courts.