With the cannabidiol (CBD) industry continuing to boom, I’ve had numerous inquiries from my CBD-selling clients regarding federal trademark protection for their CBD brands, particularly when the CBD they are selling is derived from Farm Bill hemp and grown in accordance with a derivative state program.
I’ve discussed the “legal use in commerce” requirement for federal trademarks at length in other posts, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But the gist is that in order to procure federal trademark protection for your mark, the goods and/or services for which you are claiming trademark protection must be legal pursuant to federal law. Because the manufacture, distribution and dispensing of cannabis is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, the lawful use in commerce requirement cannot be met.
But what about CBD? This is the question I’m hearing on a near daily basis. If my CBD products are “legal under federal law,” why can’t I obtain federal trademark protection? To begin with, the federal legal status of CBD is still tenuous and complicated, and the USPTO’s position here only serves to affirm that. But there is one particularly informative case that helps to illustrate the USPTO’s position on CBD trademarks.
On December 5, 2014, Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, LLC filed a U.S. federal trademark application for CHARLOTTE’S WEB, to be used on “plant extracts, namely, hemp oil sold as a critical component or ingredient of dietary supplements.” That application has been alive and the subject of multiple office actions from the examining attorney since, including a final office action that was issued on April 20th of this year (harsh). This final office action is very interesting, because the refusal to register the mark was made final for unlawful use in commerce on two grounds: Lack of compliance with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and lack of compliance with the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA). I’ll take each of the USPTO’s lawful use determinations in turn.
The Examining Attorney used a pretty standard argument in deeming the Applicant’s goods unlawful pursuant to the CSA stating:
“[i]n this case, the items or activities in the application with which the mark is used involve a per se violation of federal law. See In re Brown, 119 USPQ2d at 1352. Specifically, federal law prohibits the sale, distribution, dissemination and possession of marijuana. That is, under the [CSA] prohibits, among other things, manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing certain controlled substances, including marijuana and marijuana-based preparations.”
The Examining Attorney goes on to note that the Applicant’s specimens submitted with its application show that the “goods are dietary supplements infused with or which are comprised of cannabidiol (CBD) which is derived from what applicant has called industrial hemp plants which is grown in Colorado.” The Applicant also provided a statement to the USPTO that the goods are “comprised of CBD derived from the plant Cannabis sativa L and that applicant obtains the CBD from more than just the mature stalks and sterilized seeds of the plant. Applicant processes the entire plant including the resins, stalks, stems, buds and flowers …”. Therefore, the Examining Attorney deemed Applicant’s CBD to be derived from the portions of the hemp plant that are unlawful under the CSA.
Interestingly, the Applicant also made a tertiary argument that CBD is a cannabinoid found in other plants which are not members of the Cannabis Sativa L family such as Echinacea (coneflower), Heliopis helianthoides (oxeye), etc.. Notwithstanding the accuracy of these assertions, this is an argument I’ve seen made on other trademark applications. But the key here is that the CBD contained in Applicant’s goods is not obtained from any of these other plants. It is obtained from Cannabis sativa L, and therefore falls within the definition of marijuana under the CSA.
The Examining Attorney also determined that the Applicant’s goods are not in compliance with the FDCA, which prohibits the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a food to which has been added a drug or a biological product for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and for which the existence of such investigations has been made public. 21 U.S.C. §331(11). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that substantial clinical investigations of cannabidiol have begun and thus products containing CBD may not be sold as dietary supplements. Applicant plainly indicates that its goods are a dietary supplement, both in its application and on its website, and the Examining Attorney analyzes why CBD does not fall into any of the FDA exceptions that would allow it to be marketed as such.
In wrapping up his analysis, the Examining Attorney made a final argument entitled “The 2014 Farm Bill Did Not ‘Legalize’ Hemp on a National Level.” The Applicant here argued that “its goods are not prohibited under either the CSA or the FDCA [because] the 2014 Farm Bill, 7 U.S.C. Section 5940, has effectively overruled the FDCA as well as the CSA by declaring that hemp is a legal product at the federal level and that all things made from hemp are, therefore, legal.” Applicant also argues that the omnibus law prohibits the expenditure of federal funds to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale or use of hemp that is grown or cultivated under the 2014 Farm Bill. Here’s the relevant portion of the 2014 Farm Bill:
“[N]otwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act, or any other federal law, an institution of higher education or a State department of agriculture may grow and cultivate hemp if (1) the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for the purposes of research conducted under an agriculture pilot program or other agricultural academic research and (2) the growing or cultivating of the industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.” 7 U.S.C. Section 5940(a).
And here is the Examining Attorney’s succinct response:
“Although applicant is correct that the cited portion of the Farm Bill states that ‘industrial hemp’ is Cannabis sativa L which is less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry weight basis, the Farm Bill did not make ‘hemp’ and everything made or extracted from hemp ‘legal’ on a nationwide basis as applicant contends. Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, 7 USC Section 5940, merely allowed universities and/or state departments of agriculture to create pilot programs to grow Cannabis sativa L with a THC content of less than 0.3 percent for purposes of conducting academic or scientific or marketing research. However, this marketing research did not extend to general commercial activity nor did it make all hemp related goods ‘lawful’ on a federal level. The 2014 Farm Bill provision, for example, did not allow those participating in a state pilot program to sell seeds or plants to consumers in other states nor did it allow for goods made under the program, such as applicant’s dietary supplements, to be sold in states which have not established similar pilot programs … The Federal Register notice goes on to state that Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, 7 USC Section 5940, did not amend the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act’s requirements for obtaining FDA approval for new drug applications or the requirements for conducting clinical trials and research prior to such approval, or the FDA’s oversight of marketing claims such as those in the Warning Letter addressed to applicant. With regard to the Controlled Substances Act, the Farm Bill provision did not alter the provisions of the CSA that apply to the dispensing, distribution and manufacture of drug products containing controlled substances. ‘Manufacturers, distributors, dispensers of drug products derived from cannabis plants, as well as those conducting research with drug products, must continue to adhere to CSA requirements.’ Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 156 (August 12, 2016). With regard to ‘marijuana,’ a Schedule I prohibited substance, this means that anything which falls within the statutory definition of marijuana, 21 USC Section 802(16), cannot be distributed or disseminated in interstate commerce. This means that if applicant is extracting CBD from all parts of the Cannabis sativa L plant, as applicant has stated, then the goods are marijuana and cannot be sold in interstate commerce under the CSA.”
So, there you have it. The USPTO’s take on CBD derived from Farm Bill hemp is that it is, for the reasons outlined above, ineligible for federal trademark protection.