Fairly frequently, I am asked the following question:
“Do assignment filings made with the USPTO have the same effect as assignment filings made under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code?”
While in certain situations the answer is yes, the more helpful and short answer is no. UCC assignments are typically filed centrally or locally in each state, IP filings are made at the federal level. Moreover, the word ‘assignment’ may have a different meaning.
I’ll explore some of the similarities and differences between Article 9 assignments and assignments made with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to explain why.
What is an Assignment?
Let's start with setting the scope of what we mean by the term ‘assignment’. When used with respect to property, particularly in the legal world, assignment is defined as “the act of transferring an interest in property or some right (such as contract benefits) to another”.
Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) allows a secured party (SP) to file assignments via UCC3 amendments. In the UCC Article 9 world, an assignment (UCC3) is linked to the initial financing statement (UCC1) in the public record so that the relationship between the two filings is clear. Both filings, the UCC1 and UCC3, are indexed together so that a search of the public record by a debtor name will reveal both the financing statement and the amendment in one search.
There are several types of UCC assignment filings a secured party may make with the appropriate central filing office and/or local filing office:
- The secured party (assignor) may assign all of its rights to another party (assignee). (This is considered a full assignment.)
- The secured party may assign the rights to some portion or percentage of all the collateral covered by the initial UCC financing statement to another party. (A partial assignment.)
- The secured party may assign the rights of the 100% interest in a portion of the collateral to another party. (Also a partial assignment.)
Like the rights to security interests that may be fully or partially assigned under the UCC, intellectual property (IP), such as patents and trademarks, may also have ownership rights transferred in full or in part on the public record at the USPTO. In both cases, when an IP or UCC assignment filing is made, the filings end up in the public record so that searchers can find them.
At the USPTO, however, assignments and other changes are not directly linked on one index when searching by name, which is ordinarily how due diligence searching is conducted. A name search of the USPTO index will not yield one set of complete results containing both trademark applications and registrations and all trademark assignment filings. Separate searches are needed in different sections of the USPTO website. Once those searches are completed, a searcher may need to manually review the results in order to determine if there is a parent-child relationship between the records.
This is also important to note because an IP assignment can be filed before a patent is granted or a trademark application and registration appears on the USPTO records, because it might still be going through the review process at the USPTO.
On top of that, some filings categorized as ‘assignments’ at the USPTO, because they are indexed in the assignments database, are not assignments by definition. In other words, a filing on the USPTO assignment database may NOT be transferring rights in full or in part. This means that search results will include actual assignments and other records that are not assignments in the true sense of the rights of transfer.
USPTO Assignment Recordation Examples
So, what other filings are included as ‘assignments’ at the USPTO that are not really assignments? As an example, let’s say that the owner of IP changes their name while retaining ownership in their IP. Searching either of the assignment indexes at the USPTO may include name change results. Technically, this is not an assignment by definition – there was no transfer of rights – but the name change is filed on the assignment index. A security interest in IP is another example of a type of lien filing found on the USPTO assignments database but is not, by definition, an assignment.
Adding to the confusion, IP filers can choose to file using the option of ‘Other’ and can enter a conveyance type not already provided as a standard selection, which means that almost anything can be included on the ‘assignment’ records at the USPTO.
A Rule of Thumb for UCC and IP Assignments
The main point to take away from this discussion is that while assignments of UCCs are always assignments, assignments of IP are not as clear. Assignments of UCCs are always linked to the initial financing statements and are usually reflected in a single search, but assignments of IP filings are found on a different USPTO database from the trademark application and registration database, and patent grant and published pending patent databases, which all require separate searches (and thus, yield separate search results) on the USPTO website. It is necessary for the searcher to match up IP assignments to the parent record, if there is a parent record available.
The terminology may appear the same, but the meaning – and the search processes – for USPTO assignments and UCC assignments are completely different.
For insight on how intellectual property due diligence dovetails with more traditional types of searches, access our free webinar below:
This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice.