Mass trademark filers are not a new phenomenon, but evidence suggests that their activity has ramped up significantly in recent years. The enigmatic behaviour of individuals, entities or groups that disrupt IP registries and brand protection by filing of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of trademark applications is clogging up global registers and making it increasingly difficult for brand owners to clear names for new products and services. In some instances, mass filing is resulting in challenges to existing rights, lengthy and expensive court proceedings, and even – for some small businesses – the need to rebrand existing products.
One of the first mass trademark filers to come to the fore was Leo Stoller. Over more than two decades, Stoller built a large inventory of well-known marks and engaged in assertive enforcement actions to preserve those alleged rights. Not only did he threaten infringement action against people and companies that used similar marks, he even ended up in litigation against globally renowned brands such as Google and Target.
Another notorious example was self-proclaimed ‘Trademark King’ Douglas A LeHocky. Over a short period in 2014, LeHocky spent approximately $50,000 on trademark applications at the USPTO. The filings covered a vast selection of high-profile brands and celebrity names, including marks related to Apple, Disney, Google, the Rolling Stones and Warren Buffet. Unsurprisingly, all these applications were eventually rejected. Incredibly, though, the saga did not end there. LeHocky responded to a number of refusals by admitting that while he did not have the relevant consent from rights holders, he had “been given consent from the Lord”.
More recently, a new class of mass filers has emerged, including individuals such as German multimillionaire Michael Gleissner and Japanese former IP attorney Ikuhiro Ueda. Elsewhere, trademark registers are coming under increasing strain from the rapid escalation of applications from China. In fact, in January 2021 the USPTO issued a special policy report into the influx of filings from the country, highlighting not only the suspicious nature of a significant number of applications, but also the growing pressure that this practice is exerting on the trademark ecosystem.
This special report scrutinises the Gleissner, Ueda and China filings outlook by charting the rise of these new trends, analysing the data behind their activity, investigating the real-world effect that they are having and, crucially, exploring how rights holders and registries can mitigate their impact.
WTR would like to take this opportunity to thank its contributors and CompuMark for providing the data and much of the analysis for this report.