Hard Pill to Swallow: TTAB Denies Trademark Application For Dietary and Nutritional Supplements Involving CBD

3 min

Last week, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) affirmed a decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denying the application of a mark for “hemp oil extracts sold as an integral component of dietary and nutritional supplements.”1 In the decision, In re Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, LLC, the USPTO reasoned that the applicant’s goods, which contain cannabidiol (CBD), are illegal under federal law – specifically, the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act (FDCA) and the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The mark “CW,” written in standard characters, would serve to identify the applicant’s brand, “CW Hemp,” as the source of the goods. The mark was to be placed on bottles of the applicant’s hemp extract, advertised as a nutritional supplement to “promote mind and body wellness,” offered in multiple flavors, and recommended to be used in beverage recipes. The goods’ illegality, the TTAB held, is a consequence of their nature and intended use as a dietary supplement.

The CSA lists marijuana, defined as “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.,” as a Schedule I controlled substance. The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the “2014 Farm Bill”), which was subsequently expanded in 2018, created an “industrial hemp” exception to the CSA’s marijuana prohibition (the “Industrial Hemp Provision”). The Industrial Hemp Provision allows for the growth and cultivation of the Cannabis sativa L. plant with less than 0.3% THC concentration for certain research purposes as allowed under state law. While this provision allows for the growth of industrial hemp, it does not protect against the violation of other federal law for the illegal use of that hemp after cultivation.

The FDCA prohibits any food with a drug or biological substance additive from entering into commerce, if that drug or biological additive is the subject of a substantial clinical investigation that has been made public. Dietary supplements, which the “CW” hemp oil extracts were advertised as, constitute food for the purposes of this statute. Hemp grown legally under the Industrial Hemp Provision will nevertheless be deemed illegal if its use is found to violate the FDCA or another federal law. In other words, the use of CBD in food or dietary supplements will be deemed illegal under the FDCA as long as CBD remains the subject of a clinical investigation, regardless of whether the hemp was grown legally under the CSA exception. Illegal use will override legal cultivation.

The USPTO currently has a number of trademark applications pending in Class 5, which includes dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals, involving CBD-related goods, which now are likely to be denied registration per the TTAB's decision. Accordingly, when making the decision to apply for a federal trademark, keep in mind the nature and use of your CBD product in relation to federal law. Additionally, although you may not be able to acquire a federal trademark registration for a CBD-related product, you may still be able to obtain common law trademark protection, and trademark registrations in various states. Please seek competent counsel for additional guidance in registering your trademark with the USPTO to ensure legal compliance.

© 2020 Venable LLP. Using, distributing, possessing, and/or selling marijuana is illegal under existing federal law. Compliance with state law does not guarantee or constitute compliance with federal law. This informational overview is not intended to provide any legal advice or any guidance or assistance in violating federal law.

1 All information derived from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Opinion – In re Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, LLC (Serial No. 86568478) (mailed June 16, 2020).