Two companies providing data for the hemp industry are embroiled in a trademark dispute. New Leaf Data Services ("New Leaf") sued PanXchange in federal court in Connecticut on the grounds that PanXchange's offering under brands such as PANXCHANGE HEMP BENCHMARKS violated New Leaf's supplemental trademark registration, HEMP BENCHMARKS (Reg. No. 5079914 ), represents. The case was eventually transferred to Colorado.
In response to New Leaf's complaint, PanXchange stated that the HEMP BENCHMARKS brand is generic. PanXchange found that Merriam-Webster defines "benchmarks" as "something that serves as a standard by which others can be measured or judged". PanXchange therefore claims that "the term" hemp benchmarks "is incapable of distinguishing New Leaf's services." As a result, PanXchange is asking the court to cancel New Leaf's registration.
The use of the term "capable" is important as ancillary registration only requires that a trademark can distinguish an applicant's goods or services. It is not necessary that the mark actually distinguish those goods or services.
At its core, this case is about branding basics, with the hemp connection being largely random. Still, the stake could impact other companies in the hemp and cannabis space.
If the court agrees PanXchange and finds that "hemp benchmarks" are a generic term, it could cause companies to shift the envelope when it comes to brands that follow the same basic formula (like CANNABIS BENCHMARKS, for the New Leaf a supplement also contains registration). On the other hand, if the court approves New Leaf's claim, we could see an increase in filings for such trademarks.
What do you think? Should "hemp benchmarks" be viewed as a generic term like "oranges" or "computers"? Give us your thoughts in the comments. And if you're a new or growing cannabis company, think seriously about your branding. Federal issues aside, a generic or descriptive name is always difficult to protect and can be a headache for your cannabis business.