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On May 2, 2019 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued new guidance regarding cannabis-related trademark applications following the 2018 Farm Bill.  Although it’s not the best news for cannabis businesses, it’s not the worst news either, and it adds some welcome clarity to an otherwise muddy, inconsistent area of trademark practice before the USPTO.

The USPTO will continue its standing policy of refusing to register marks for cannabis-related goods and/or services that violate federal law (…although I still contend that this policy is wrong-headed, inconsistent with the USPTO granting cannabis patents, and contrary to the purposes and plain language of the Lanham Trademark Act which provides for registration of marks used in commerce, defined as “all commerce which may lawfully be regulated by Congress” i.e. all commerce that can be regulated and/or prohibited under Congress’ lawful powers, not merely commerce that is deemed lawful — but that’s a tirade for a different blog post or perhaps an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit…).

Pursuant to the new guidance, the USPTO will continue evaluating whether goods or services identified in trademark applications are lawful under federal law including the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§801 et seq. (CSA) in addition to the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. §§301 et seq. (FDCA), and the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334 (the 2018 Farm Bill).  This much remains the same, so applicants can still expect to be denied trademark registrations for goods or services that are obviously unlawful (*cough* through Congress’ lawful regulating *cough*) under those statutes.

The new guidance now explicitly recognizes the status of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill.  The 2018 Farm Bill removed “hemp” from the CSA, where hemp is defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids [like CBD], isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”  As a result, cannabis and derivatives such as CBD, from hemp plants that contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC on a dry-weight basis are no longer controlled substances and therefore cannot be refused trademark registration on the basis of violating the CSA.

However, even if hemp-derived goods are legal under the CSA, not all CBD or hemp-derived products are lawful under the 2018 Farm Bill.  The use in foods or dietary supplements of a substance undergoing clinical investigations without approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violates the FDCA.  The 2018 Farm Bill explicitly preserved FDA’s authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the FDCA.  CBD is an active ingredient in FDA-approved drugs and is a substance undergoing clinical investigations.  So the USPTO will be skeptical and likely deny applications for foods and dietary supplements touting CBD as an ingredient.

For applications involving “hemp,” the guidance reminds everyone that the USPTO examining attorney has authority to issue inquiries concerning the applicant’s commerce, and will specifically require information about the applicant’s authorization to produce hemp.  Applicants will be required to provide additional statements for the record to confirm that their activities meet the requirements of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Notably, the trademark office doesn’t issue inquiries about complex regulatory compliance in other highly regulated industries.  The USPTO doesn’t ask whether SHELL or MARLBORO, for example, comply with all applicable laws and regulations when they apply for trademarks.

Furthermore, the CSA still makes marijuana illegal, including “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.”  So, under this guidance we can expect the USPTO to refuse registration when an application identifies goods encompassing CBD or other extracts that originate from marijuana (rather than hemp) because such goods remain unlawful under the CSA.

Despite the USPTO’s never-ending efforts to foster consistency among USPTO examiners, practicing trademark lawyers commonly complain about how different USPTO examiners review applications with different levels of scrutiny and care.  I like to cut the examiners some slack because they have enormous caseloads and their job is to be an expert on trademark law, not criminal law, FDA regulations, or agriculture.  But given the complicated, evolving status of cannabis’ legality, cannabis-related trademark applications have received particularly inconsistent treatment depending upon the USPTO examiners assigned to them.  Some cannabis-related applications would be rejected (for identifying unlawful “drug paraphernalia” for example) while others would not.  Because of that inconsistency, many astute cannabis businesses have successfully followed a “spaghetti strategy” tossing applications at the wall to see what sticks.

What’s new and helpful with the May 2nd guidance is the USPTO’s specific guidance about the lawfulness of cannabis, its byproducts, and related goods or services with an emphasis on clarifying the legal status of hemp and CBD.  This will help overworked USPTO examiners understand current cannabis laws so they can more consistently determine the lawfulness of goods or services listed in cannabis-related applications.

Options for cannabis businesses seeking brand protection at the federal level remain limited and complex.  And I expect that inconsistent results will continue, especially for goods or services that make more creative uses of cannabis and cannabinoids.  But at least the trademark office has taken a closer look at these issues and examiners should be granting more registrations more easily for lawful cannabis-related trademark applications.

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FRANCHISE LAW

Franchisors

Franchise law is a heavily regulated area of law.  We help clients expand their businesses through franchising and other distribution methods. We have experience in many industries including, restaurants, health, and beauty, alcohol, and cannabis among others. Our representative services include the following:

Franchisees

We also help potential franchisees interested in buying a franchise. We are able to assist with evaluation of franchise opportunities with respect to:

Alternative Structures

However, not all businesses are suited to franchise. We are also experienced with helping clients structure alternative distribution methods to prevent classification as a franchise.

MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

Our M&A attorneys are highly experienced in counseling clients who are considering acquisitions or exit strategies.  We have many years of experience handling deals of various types and sizes, ranging from sales of small closely-held business, private companies, and publicly-traded corporations.  We have represented business owners, private equity firms and investment banks in a wide range of industries. 

We have a deep business bench, and Emerge attorneys have handled transactions of all shapes and sizes.  Whether your deal is valued at $100,000 or $100,000,000, our experienced attorneys will guide you through the deal process.

We understand the intensity, technical skill and judgment needed to get deals done, and we provide our clients with timely, practical and cost-effective legal advice.  We are highly capable in all aspects of M&A, including the following:

CANNABIS INDUSTRY

Emerge Law Group is highly experienced in the cannabis industry.  We have helped many clients obtain state licenses and local permits to operate cannabis businesses throughout California, Oregon, and Washington.

Emerge attorneys were instrumental in the drafting and passage of Oregon Measure 91, legalizing marijuana in the State of Oregon, and have represented cannabis businesses well before many law firms were willing to enter the cannabis industry. As a firm that has provided legal services in the cannabis space for many years, we are familiar with the unique and complex issues businesses and individuals face in an emerging and highly regulated industry.

We regularly help clients with:

Cannabis laws and rules are also regularly changing.  Members of our team are dedicated to attending legislative hearings, state agency and local city and county meetings to stay up-to-date on any new changes and how to adjust to any new changes.

See our Cannabis Industry page for more information.

PSYCHEDELICS

There is tremendous excitement about the potential for psychedelic drugs to benefit a wide variety of populations, including terminally ill patients suffering with anxiety and depression. Until recently, psychedelic substances have been accessible only in the illicit market and are illegal under federal and state to manufacture, distribute, or possess. These substances have, since 1970, been treated as having no legitimate medical use, and no commercial application. As such, no one invested in this area or required legal services, outside of the criminal context.

Today, researchers in a multitude of clinical studies are proving the medical safety and efficacy of these medicines, with the objective of changing the treatment of these substances under the Controlled Substances Act. Companies are now actively raising money to develop intellectual property and seize market opportunities associated with psychedelic drugs.

In addition, advocates at the state and local levels are not waiting for the rescheduling of these substances and are active in undertaking efforts to decriminalize these substances and/or make them affirmatively legal under state and/or municipal law. Decriminalization already has occurred in cities including Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor. Oregon is poised to be the first state to make psilocybin therapy affirmatively legal. Emerge Law Group is working with a wide array of clients pushing forward in this emerging area.

See our Psychedelics Practice Group page for more information.

TAXATION

CORPORATE AND PARTNERSHIP TAX

Businesses of all kinds benefit from a customized but systematic approach to structuring legal relationships. Emerge Law Group helps businesses and business owners with a variety of tax planning matters.

Representative client services include:

ESTATE PLANNING

Estate planning encompasses everything from a will and power of attorney to combined estate and business succession planning. In almost all cases, the purpose of the plan is to help the client protect those they care about most in the event they can no longer be there for them.

Emerge Law Group has experience with a wide range of tools used in estate planning, including wills, trusts, and family business entity planning.

TAX CONTROVERSIES

Emerge Law Group can assist with the resolution of difficult tax controversies. Our areas of emphasis and experience include:

REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS

Emerge Law Group assists clients with a wide range of real estate transactional matters.  We regularly help clients with:

LAND USE

Emerge Law Group also assists clients with all aspects of local government land use and development processes, ranging from preliminary property analyses and building permit issues to complex land use reviews and hearings. Our attorneys are experienced in obtaining land use entitlements and development permits for a wide range of uses.

We regularly help clients with:

Above all, we understand the value of working with cities and counties to enhance communities while developing the land to its potential. We strive to create solutions to land use issues that serve to better our clients and the communities in which they live and work.

LITIGATION AND ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION

The attorneys in Emerge Law Group’s Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution practice group litigate commercial, intellectual property, and public interest matters in state and federal courts, as well as private mediation and arbitration proceedings.  Our lawyers have represented national and regional financial institutions, major media, entertainment and technology companies, and other Fortune 500 companies in a broad array of high-stakes disputes.  Our team of litigators has handled leading cases that have shaped the law in cutting-edge business, technology, free speech, and public interest impact lawsuits in trial and the courts of appeal.

We have particular expertise in handling civil litigation and regulatory enforcement matters in the cannabis and psychedelic industries.  While many firms claim expertise in the these industries, few have our depth of experience successfully litigating contract, trademark, partnership, shareholder, land use, and real estate disputes in court and arbitration.  Even fewer firms have our level of experience handling writ of mandate proceedings against the government regulators.

Our litigators practice in California, Oregon, and Washington, but have appeared in state and federal courts nationwide.  Our knowledge of our clients’ businesses, goals and concerns, and our experience litigating at the highest levels, give us unique insight into possible outcomes and pitfalls as we continuously confront issues of new impression.

No matter what the industry, we pride ourselves in achieving our clients’ objectives through efficient and creative solutions primarily designed to avoid disputes in the first place—which is always the best litigation strategy.  Many times, our clients obtain excellent outcomes before or at the earliest stages of litigation because our adversaries quickly recognize the challenges they will face in litigating against us.  When litigation is unavoidable, however, we work hard to provide our clients with both cost-efficient and “big firm” quality representation.

 

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Your intellectual property (or “IP”) strategy can harness your most valuable information and intangible assets including your name, your brand, your designs, your content, your services, and your products — what makes your business stand apart in a competitive world.  We can help you evaluate and build your IP portfolio, then secure it, monetize it, and protect it.

IP encompasses multiple areas of law and different types of information or material.

Our Intellectual Property practice focuses on:

TRADEMARK

Trademarks include names, signs, logos, designs, phrases, slogans, expressions, and sometimes even colors, sounds, or smells that identify or distinguish one business compared to others.  Trademark protection is fundamental in securing your “brand.”

COPYRIGHT

Copyright covers original works of creative authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  This includes literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, designs, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.  Depending upon the type of work, “moral rights” (such as the right of attribution) may be implicated as well.

TRADE SECRET

Trade secret laws can vary somewhat between states, but generally trade secrets cover information, including drawings, cost data, customer lists, formulas, recipes, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods, techniques or processes that derive economic value from not being generally known and are the subject of efforts that are “reasonable under the circumstances” to maintain secrecy.

PRIVACY

Depending upon where you live or operate, there is a special patchwork of laws and regulations that protect and regulate personal information.  If you are handling or giving out personal or potentially sensitive information, you may be implicating privacy laws.

PUBLICITY

Publicity rights address the commercial use of an individual’s face, name, image, or likeness.  These rights vary state-to-state.  Marilyn Monroe, for example, lived in multiple states which created complex questions about her publicity rights.

Our Intellectual Property services include:

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS

In states where new cannabis banking opportunities exist, Emerge Law Group has the proven expertise in creating canna-banking programs to efficiently capitalize on those opportunities. Our Banking Practice Group specializes in working with banks and credit unions to develop regulatory compliant programs and operational best practices. We also train banking staff to become experts in canna-banking so they can effective understand and manage the risk affiliated with canna-banking.

We regularly help clients with:

EMPLOYMENT LAW

At Emerge Law Group, we recognize that employees are the heart and soul of any successful business.  Our Employment Law Practice Group works with employers to help them effectively manage their workforce, navigate the complex web of federal, state and local employment laws and, if necessary, defend against claims before administrative agencies and in court.

We regularly help clients with:

CORPORATE FINANCE AND SECURITIES

Our corporate finance and securities lawyers are experienced attorneys who have practiced at large law firms, worked as in-house counsel for public companies and investment banks, and owned and operated start-up companies. We work with clients to help achieve their financing goals while safely navigating the highly technical securities law landscape. 

In addition to representing issuers, we also routinely represent institutional and individual investors, including in connection with fund formation and investments.

Our expertise includes:

We have a deep understanding of the financing options available to businesses, including simple unsecured loans, asset-backed financing, convertible debt, common and preferred equity, crowdfunding and various other structures.  We work closely with our clients to understand their business and financing needs, ensure they are prepared to approach investors and choose the right partners, structure and negotiate terms, navigate the due diligence process and successfully close the deal.

COMPLIANCE AND LICENSING

ALCOHOL AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY

Emerge attorneys have represented businesses in the alcohol and beverage industry, including wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, golf courses, and gas stations.  We can help you vet new locations, acquire existing locations, and apply for the appropriate liquor license.  We also provide training to comply with applicable rules and regulations, prepare operating procedures, submit renewals, and keep clients protected in the event of any potential violations or administrative hearings.

CANNABIS INDUSTRY

Emerge Law Group is highly experienced in the cannabis industry.  We have helped many clients obtain state licenses and local permits to operate cannabis businesses throughout California, Oregon, and Washington.  We regularly help clients with:

Cannabis laws and rules are also regularly changing.  Members of our team are dedicated to attending legislative hearings, state agency and local city and county meetings to stay up-to-date on any new changes and how to adjust to any new changes.

See our Cannabis Industry page for more information.

PSYCHEDELICS INDUSTRY

Emerge Law Group is a leader in the psychedelics industry.  There is tremendous excitement about the potential for psychedelic drugs to benefit a wide variety of populations, including veterans struggling with PTSD and terminally ill patients suffering with anxiety and depression.  Until recently, psychedelic substances have been accessible only in the underground; they are illegal under state and federal law to manufacture, distribute, or possess.  These substances have, since 1970, been treated as having no legitimate medical use, and no commercial application.  As such, businesses have not invested in this area or required legal services, outside of the criminal context.

Today, psychedelics are proceeding toward legalization on multiple paths.  Researchers in a multitude of clinical studies are proving the medical safety and efficacy of these medicines, with the objective of changing the treatment of these substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act, opening legal access to them.  Private and public companies are now actively raising money to develop intellectual property and capitalize on the market opportunities associated with psychedelic drugs.  Opportunities to be early actors in this new arena are tremendous.

See our Psychedelics Practice Group page for more information.

BUSINESS AND CORPORATE

Our business transactions team is made up of highly experienced transactional attorneys who have practiced at large law and accounting firms, worked as in-house counsel for public companies and investment banks, and owned and operated start-up companies. We understand complex legal matters and provide high quality legal services in a cost-effective manner.  Our clients value our experience, knowledge and judgment.

ENTITY FORMATION

Our team routinely advises clients regarding:

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE

Emerge attorneys also advise on-going concerns with: