Trademarking Bitcoin

Jonas Borchgrevink @jonasborch
February 3, 2015

A recent publication by the Bitcoin Foundation explains the Foundation’s view on trademarking the term “Bitcoin”. While some may argue that Bitcoin should be trademarked and protected against misuse, Bitcoin Foundation thinks otherwise.

The Bitcoin Foundation believes that the term “BITCOIN” alone should not be the intellectual property of any individual or entity. Rather, it is a generic term like the terms used for other currencies such as “dollar”, “euro,” “yen,” etc. The Foundation is committed to doing what it can to protect the term “BITCOIN” for public use.

35 Marks Containing Bitcoin in the US Alone

Attorneys Jim Gatto of Pillsbury and Brian Klein of Baker Marquat reported that there were 35 marks in the US Patent and Trademark Office’s online record containing the word “Bitcoin”. However, only 5 of the marks had been registered: “Bitcoin Magazine”, “American Bitcoin”, “Bitcoin Of America”, “Easy Bitcoin”, and “Milly Bitcoin”. The remaining marks are still pending to be processed by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

103 Marks Found Outside of the US Containing Bitcoin

Pillsbury Winthrop’s search revealed that there are 103 marks outside of the US containing the term “Bitcoin”, and possibly a lot more. The search found 15 marks in China, 10 marks in the EU and Brazil and 8 marks in Canada. There will be a tremendous growth of people and businesses that will trademark their business name; this is nearly the beginning.

Bitcoin Foundation has Implemented a Trademark Watch

To help identify marks prior to publication on the Principal Register containing the word “Bitcoin” without disclaimers of the term, the Foundation has initiated a trademark watch of the US Patent and Trademark Office’s records to be able to oppose them:

The USPTO will generally require an applicant to disclaim merely descriptive or generic words in an otherwise registrable mark. A disclaimer does not remove the disclaimed word or phrase from the mark. It is simply a statement indicating that no exclusive rights are claimed in the disclaimed word or phrase, separate and apart from the mark as a whole.

The term “Bitcoin” should be considered as a highly descriptive or generic word, and therefore would require a disclaimer when registering a trademark containing “Bitcoin” at the USPTO, the attorneys says.

Too Late to Oppose Already Registered Trademarks

One-third or more of the marks found have already been registered, meaning it’s too late to oppose them. And unlike the US, most countries do not require a disclaimer of a descriptive or generic word, but it’s harder to register a generic mark outside of the US. The Bitcoin Foundation has included an international watch service to help identify marks containing the term “Bitcoin” outside the US and may take action against companies or individuals that misuse “Bitcoin”.

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