State trademarks for cannabis goods and services have been an ongoing saga in California that we have written about extensively. For a little background, until January 1, 2018, obtaining state trademark protection in California was not possible due to Sections 14270-14272 of the Model State Trademark Law of the California Business and Professions Code, which are simply titled “Miscellaneous.” Section 14272 states the following:
The intent of this chapter is to provide a system of state trademark registration and protection substantially consistent with the federal system of trademark registration and protection under the Trademark Act of 1946 (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1051 et seq.), as amended. To that end, the construction given the federal act should be examined as non-binding authority for interpreting and construing this chapter.”
However, in December of 2017, the California Secretary of State’s Office announced that customers would be able to register cannabis-related trademarks or service marks so long as the following requirements are met:
- The mark is lawfully in use in commerce within California; and
- The specification matches the classification of goods and services adopted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The Secretary of State’s Office has reiterated that it will only accept applications insofar as the goods and/or services in question fit within an existing classification code from the USPTO’s Identification of Goods and Services Manual. Therefore, it is easy to register for things that fit squarely within the USPTO specifications, like retail services. Cannabis goods are a bit more problematic, although we have developed strategies to protect these as well.
All of this has been based on administrative policy declared by the Secretary of State’s Office, not on legislation or a change to the California Business and Professions Code, but Senate Bill 185, which was introduced on January 30, 2019 and just went to committee, would change that.
SB 185 notes that existing law in California provides for registration of trademarks where the classification of goods and services for those marks conforms to the classifications adopted by the USPTO, but proposes that for marks for which a certificate of registration is issued on or after January 1, 2020, applicants would be authorized to use “specified classifications for marks related to cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, goods and services that are lawfully in commerce under state law in the State of California.” Designated classifications of goods for cannabis products would streamline the process for trademark registration in California and provide cannabis companies with greater security regarding the enforceability of their registrations.
Additionally, SB 185 provides that the Department of Food and Agriculture, in conjunction with the State Department of Public Health and pursuant to MAUCRSA, must establish a certification program for cannabis and manufactured cannabis products comparable to the federal National Organic Program and the California Organic Food and Farming Act. As we’ve written before, it is not permissible to use an organic designation on cannabis products unless that designation is pursuant to state law or pursuant to a private certification, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture generally regulates that certification under the Organic Foods Production Act.
SB 185 lays the groundwork for some important improvements to the way cannabis companies protect their brands and the establishment of an organic certification program will benefit both companies and consumers. We’ll be following this bill closely and hope it doesn’t stall in committee. Stay tuned!