Trademarks and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Empirical Analysis of Trademark Applications Including the Terms 'COVID,' 'Coronavirus,' 'Quarantine,' 'Social Distancing', 'Six Feet Apart,' and 'Shelter in Place'
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True to its nature as a (hopefully) once in a lifetime event, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a tsunami of trademark applications. These include the terms “COVID,” “Coronavirus,” and other medical and pandemic-management related terms. This unprecedented number of applications has been highlighted by several commentators in general terms in the past months. This Article examines these applications in detail. Notably, the Article presents the first and most complete survey of the applications filed between the onset of the pandemic and the end of 2020, which include the following terms: “COVID,” “Coronavirus,” “Quarantine,” “Social Distancing,” “Six Feet Apart,” and “Shelter in Place.” The author chose to include four additional terms related to the pandemic besides “COVID” and “Coronavirus” to illustrate the broader effects of the pandemic on the trademark application process. The Article proceeds as follows: Section II describes the methodology used to collect and examine the relevant “COVID-19 related” applications; Section III presents the data with specific details regarding the products for which the applications have been filed, the type of filing entities, the legal basis for filing, and the date of filing throughout the relevant period—the year 2020; Section IV elaborates on the distinct legal challenges that the “COVID-19 related” applications may face in order to be registered, notably the possibility that the signs are found to be descriptive, generic, or misleading, or cannot function as marks; Section V concludes and compares the data related to these applications with previous filings for signs including terms related to past sensational events, including pandemics. This comparison shows that the numbers of “COVID-19 related” applications are much higher than the filings submitted in the past. Moreover, 2020 saw a large increase in the numbers of trademark filings including other medical terms. This again illustrates the catalyst effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the trademark application system. For the interest of the readers, the Article includes the complete dataset presented as Appendix.
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