Pursuit in Series or Parallel?

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Almost forty years ago, that question prompted me to rethink my engineering path after three semesters, knowing an electronic circuits lab awaited my fourth.

Over winter break, thumbing through the University of Iowa catalog in my dad’s office, looking for an alternative, I happily discovered the pharmacy curriculum.

Had I known that law school would follow pharmacy school, perhaps a few years could have been saved in the serial approach to my 80s educational decade.

And, if a deep focus on trademark law had been in the crystal ball at the outset, shaving a full three years would have been possible, but believe me, no regrets.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to reflect on the difference between series and parallel again, following the College of Pharmacy’s virtual ELB meeting.

In addition to the exciting things going on at UI Pharmaceuticals, other news reports tout the benefits of parallel work to bring a Covid-19 vaccine to market.

When time is of the essence, running parallel tracks to solve a problem is key. While a parallel approach necessarily produces some waste, the benefits of achieving the goal sooner are considered to outweigh any increased cost.

But when subsequent decisions can only be made best by knowing the outcomes of earlier decisions, actions, or events, calculated serial thinking is essential. Clearly, serial thinking is driving the decision whether and when to reopen society, as that decision only can be made in the context of knowing about the success or failure of last week’s efforts at flattening the curve.

Since these decisions are being made State by State and City by City, in some sense serial thinking is at work in parallel across various portions of the country.

As it turns out in trademark law, although hardly life and death problems or goals, or resembling anything close in terms of financial investment, the same principles that drive whether to use parallel thinking or serial thinking apply.

By way of example, before adoption and use, most often potential trademarks are searched, cleared and considered in parallel, not serially.

Given the variety of business factors that go into the decision of which mark to adopt and use, it is typical to determine the availability of several options at once.

In fact, when the stakes are high, the timeline is tight, and focus group testing is used to compare options, even intent-to-use applications may be filed in parallel.

Since the required bona-fide intent-to-use a trademark can be contingent on future and unknown events at the time of filing, parallel pursuits are plausible.

Parallel thinking is also used when considering where protection will be sought outside the United States, since international trademark law treaties allow for filings to be made in parallel within six months of the U.S. filing, and still benefit from the original U.S. priority date.

Other times, serial thinking is better suited to the trademark problem at hand.

For example, when conditions warrant, it may be wisest to file just a single application narrowly, dipping a toe in so to speak, only to dive in later once the waters of examination and third-party interest have been tested.

Another example where thinking long-term and serially is key is in protecting descriptive and non-traditional marks, where registration on the Supplemental Register is possible first, to be followed by registration on the Principal Register, often five years or more later, after building a record of acquired distinctiveness.

Further along the trademark life-cycle, brand owners may be happy to learn that delays in pursuing infringement actions can be explained when serially pursued.

In other words, courts have excused brand owners from suing multiple infringers at the same time; in this context, it can be reasonable to pursue one at a time.

Brand owners, when preparing to launch a new brand, do you prefer a series or parallel approach to trademark clearance?

Trademark types, how many parallel intent-to-use applications have you filed at once for the same planned product/service?

Baseball fans, what will the World Series look like in 2020?

Finally, how will “parallel play” be impacted by social distancing, if at all?

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