Protecting Your Marks Outside of the United States: Foreign Trademark Priority Filings

Trademark protection is geographic in scope…meaning that a trademark is only protected in the geographic area(s) (state/region/country) in which the mark is used or registered.

earth globeA United States trademark application or registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) does not protect a trademark in any foreign country.  However, U.S. trademark applications and registrations can be used to obtain trademark protection in other countries and vice versa.

Six-Month Priority Foreign Filings

If the foreign trademark application is filed within six months of the U.S. application, the foreign application can claim “convention priority.”  This means that the foreign application will be treated as if it was filed on the same day as the U.S. application.  Nearly all countries are members of the Paris Convention, which put this rule in place.

“Claiming priority” in this six month window can prove to be a major advantage by providing you with the earliest possible filing date for your mark.  If other applicants file similar marks after that priority date, they will be rejected or suspended. In other words, your application will receive priority over applications filed after not only your actual filing date, but also over applications filed between your actual filing date and your priority date.

Taking advantage of priority foreign filings also allows you the opportunity to spread out the costs associated with trademark filings over a six-month period and gives you time to assess your international brand protection strategy without sacrificing any protection…which can be significant, especially for a new venture or brand.

Foreign trademark applications filed after this six-month “priority” date take the actual dates on which they are filed.

Other Cost-Saving Measures and Strategies

In many cases, there are mechanisms available that provide efficient and cost-effective ways of obtaining protection for your brand simultaneously in multiple countries.  For example, the Madrid Protocol allows a trademark owner to seek protection in any of the almost 100 member countries by filing one application and designating as many member countries as it chooses.  It is also possible to file a single Community Trade Mark (“CTM”) application for a trademark covering all of the countries in the European Union.  You can designate the EU/CTM in your Madrid Protocol application.


Misleading and Unsolicited Trademark Service and Fee Requests

Filing a trademark application in the United States or a foreign country typically results in trademark owners receiving unsolicited notices, invoices, and other communications from U.S. and foreign companies requesting fees for trademark-related services, such as trademark monitoring and document filing.  Although these documents and invoices often look “official” and contain customer-specific information (such as the trademark serial or registration number and owner name), companies that offer these services are not affiliated or associated with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) or any other federal

If you receive an invoice related to your trademarks, you should verify its authenticity with your trademark attorney, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the Intellectual Property Office through which your mark is registered before remitting payment and to discuss your options in more detail.

Unless the communication comes directly from (1) the USPTO, (2) a foreign trademark agency equivalent, or (3) your trademark attorney, these notices and invoices are likely unsolicited third party advertisements for services that you may not need or that may not provide you with adequate protection for your trademarks.  The USPTO and the WIPO have issued warnings related to these unsolicited requests for payment of fees.  WIPO has databases containing samples of misleading invoices and similar announcements issued by various countries.

You may file a complaint about these types of solicitations with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).