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Marijuana Legalization and Intellectual Property

Reuters reports on the initiative to legalize marijuana in California. (source) The story claims that a lot of people in heavy growing areas are unsure of whether they want the initiative to pass, since it may mean that big business will move into the weed industry, and local workers who make their money off of pot will be unemployed.

That is because legalizing marijuana could turn a cottage industry into Pot Inc. Locals fear big tobacco will swoop in and drive down prices, supplying millions of new, legal pot smokers with “Marlboro Green.”

And with that discussion we add in the obligatory ignorance-of-intellectual-property-concepts-quote.

Rumors abound in Arcata that the tobacco giants have already snatched up land and copyrights to the most popular names of weed strains, whether Purple Kush, Big Bud, Headband, Trainwreck or L.A. Confidential.

For starters, can you find the most obvious screw up in that sentence? “Copyrights.” What the writer is talking about are “trademarks.” Copyright protects your right to your original creations of creative work. Trademarks protect brand names.

As trademarks are a natural symptom of commerce, it would be likely that marijuana will eventually have brand names. Heroin does in New York City. (source) And, of course, when you have commerce you also have scam artists. Now that you can file for a trademark registration online, trademark squatting is all the rage. For example, some joker filed an intent-to-use application for PURPLEKUSH for flavored tobacco. Purple Kush is a variety of marijuana.

Accordingly, while Philip Morris has not “snatched up” the trademark to Purple Kush, an opportunist in Arizona lays in wait … most likely thinking that he “owns” the words. However, if the day comes that the USPTO allows trademark registrations for marijuana brands, you can rest assured that “Purple Kush” will no sooner be granted a registration than “tulip” will be granted a registration for flowers.

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