Agtech Legal Updates

Fall 2017 Digital Fruit Short Takes

ROSE Beer Denied Trademark Application for Being Too Generic 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to allow a company to register the mark ROSE for its beer based mixed beverages. In order to qualify for registration, a proposed mark must be able to distinguish the applicant’s goods from those manufactured or sold by others. In other words, generic terms are ineligible for trademark status. Here, the issue was whether relevant consumers would understand the term ROSE refers to the company’s subcategory of beer based mixed beverages, as opposed to a more general class, such as rose colored beer. The USPTO determined that ROSE is a generic term that falls within the latter category and is not registrable because it should be freely available for use by competitors.

Salsa by SUNBELT ORGANIC Is Not Confusable With Other SUNBELT and SUNBELT BAKERY Food Items 

The applicant Coastal Sunbelt sought to register the mark SUNBELT ORGANIC for “organic foodstuffs, namely, salsa” and “processed organic fruits and vegetables.” The opposer claimed that there is a likelihood of confusion with the registered marks SUNBELT and SUNBELT BAKERY for granola, cereals, cookies, etc. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) found that because fruits, vegetables and granola may be sold in the same or different section of grocery stores, and because they are sold in the same channels of trade to the same classes of consumers, there is an inference that confusion is likely as to these goods. However, the TTAB found insufficient evidence that salsa is related to these products. Thus, TTAB dismissed the opposition to the company’s salsa applications but sustained the opposition to the applications covering fruits and vegetables.

Why AgTech Companies need to be Aware of the New European Regulation GDPR 

While Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (effective May 2018) will require more cooperation between businesses, IT, and security firms than any other law to ensure regulatory compliance, AgTech companies seem to be unaware of its general applicability. In America, in particular, 75% of businesses do not believe that GDPR is relevant to them. The reality is that it will affect any business anywhere in the world that trades with the European Union or that has any customers who are citizens of the European Union. The main purpose of the law is to protect personally identifiable European data. This requires AgTech companies to know exactly where personally identifiable data is held, how it is held, and who has access to it. For instance, the GDPR prohibits European data to be exported from Europe without arrangements such as Privacy Shield, and it also prohibits data to be exported without the user’s permission. Penalties for noncompliance can be severe: up to 20 million euros or 4% of the company’s global annual turnover for the preceding financial year.

Trump Signs the Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act into Law

The Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act clarifies that growers can treat capital gains taxes that arise from the sale of farm assets during a bankruptcy as general unsecured claims. Absent this clarification, the grower would be obligated to pay the IRS before other creditors, which could result in the loss of a family farm. The Act was a bipartisan proposal, introduced earlier this year as a tax relief bill, and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on October 26, 2017 as part of the “Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017.”

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