Many brands and manufacturers are quickly catching on to the value of CBD following the recent passing of the Farm Bill in December of last year. Operating with the hopes of capitalizing on the rapidly shifting cannabis landscape, these brands are attempting to trademark their CBD products behind closed doors in the hopes of becoming the next “Coca Cola” of the industry. It’s a problem that’s so widespread that The American Business Law Journal even released a paper last year detailing the ways in which “innovative entrepreneurs disrupt legal regimes for strategic advantage” with relation to marijuana derived products.
With CBD set to become a $2.1 billion industry by 2020 it seems as though the CBD industry is accelerating faster than most businesses can handle. That’s why Chelsie Spencer, an intellectual property attorney licensed in Texas and Florida who specializes in CBD compliance laws, is such a necessity.
A partner of the Texas based law firm Ritter Spencer, Chelsie handles transactional and litigation work for clients ranging from startups to large corporations. Her continued work with medical marijuana and hemp makes her one of the few experts in an industry that’s constantly in flux. Chelsie manages everything from helping clients secure their trademark registrations to drafting copyright licensing agreements to ensure that no brand has a monopoly on CBD products. She’s a rare friendly face in the midst of a cutthroat CBD hurricane, the person you want on speed dial when things turn sour.
One of the issues Chelsie manages on a daily basis is enforcing and defending claims of copyright, patent or trademark infringement.
“If I am selling “OCEAN SALT” CBD e-liquid for vaping and own the registration for that mark and another business begins selling “SALTY OCEAN” CBD e-liquid,” she begins, “I have a good faith basis to issue a cease and desist letter to that company. If ignored, I can also elect to sue them in federal court and can seek to enjoin them from selling that product and seek damages.”
Trademark and patent infringement is just the tip of the CBD iceberg. Another is the issue of CBD’s rapidly shifting legality.
“The FDA doesn’t care where the cannabinoid comes from. They maintain both CBD and THC derived from hemp or marijuana is illegal to put into edibles, which is why we’ve been seeing states like New York pulling edibles off the shelves the past few weeks,” says Chelsie.
So what’s a brand to do? Many businesses, for starters, don’t even realize that they can get a trademark for their CBD brand. This is likely due to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s prior uncertainty as to whether CBD goods were a controlled substance that fell within the Controlled Substance Act. The issue was resolved on May 22nd of last year when the DEA issued an internal directive clarifying that compliant CBD products—those coming from the mature stalk of the cannabis plant or industrial hemp containing a THC concentration of less than .3%—were a legal good and thus eligible for registration.
“I highly recommend that CBD businesses utilize an attorney familiar with CBD registrations and the CBD industry,” says Chelsie. “The market is becoming congested and CBD businesses need to act fast to protect their brand. It is of tantamount importance for CBD goods and service providers to apply for federal trademark registration for their brand names. This is a way for CBD businesses to reserve their trademark before they even begin producing the CBD good or service.”
Despite the whirlwind speed at which the CBD industry twists and turns it’s evident that Chelsie truly enjoys her work. Her community involvement is extensive, so much so that she serves as co-chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Community Involvement Committee in addition to several other committees and groups. A member of the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Texas, she’s an active lobbyist for cannabis reform who frequently writes and speaks about how these issues are affecting the hemp and cannabis industries across the United States.
“Even though I speak at events and bar associations all over the country on this issue I have never once taken a speaking fee since it is a subject I am so passionate about,” says Chelsie. “If offered, I donate it to an organization in the industry or decline it.”