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IP Assignments: Nunc Pro Tunc Assignments in Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Law

By John DiGiacomo

Like any valuable business asset, patents, trademarks and copyrights can be sold, assigned and licensed. Indeed, assignment and licensing is common with respect to intellectual property. In legal terms, an “assignment” is a transfer of ownership, either full ownership or partial. In basic terms, a nunc pro tunc is a type of assignment that is backdated. Nunc pro tunc is Latin meaning “now for then.”A nunc pro tunc assignment will be signed on a particular date, but parties will deem the assignment to have been granted on some earlier date.

For a Trademark registered on May 1, 2017, an example of how a nunc pro tunc assignment provision might look like this:

Now, therefore, for good and valuable consideration, ASSIGNOR agrees that ASSIGNOR hereby assigned unto ASSIGNEE nunc pro tunc effective as of October 1, 2020, all right, title and interest in and to the May 1, 2017 trademark described herein … In testimony whereof, ASSIGNOR, has signed this instrument this 1st day of October 2020.”

In this example, the assignment is deemed to have been granted on May 1, 2017, but has an effective date of October 1, 2020.

In business terms, nunc pro tunc assignments are often used where past IP assignments are made verbally or via conduct. In the rush to get IP “to market,” it is not uncommon for assignments to be granted, but not reduced to writing. Nunc pro tunc assignments are also commonly used to bridge gaps in the “chain of title” for IP. This can happen when corporations and/or assets are sold, but proper paperwork is missing. Purchasers believe that they have ownership to certain patents, trademarks, or copyrights, but the missing documents cause “gaps” in the chain of title. These “gaps” can be cured by obtaining a nunc pro tunc assignment from the original owner of the IP. In the same manner, nunc pro tunc assignments are often used as part of settlements for litigation involving claims of patent, trademark and/or copyright infringement or disputes over ownership

For litigation purposes, nunc pro tunc assignments are often used to give a party legal standing to initiate litigation. To have “standing” to initiate litigation, a party must have some ownership interest in the patent, trademark or copyright. However, for courts, “standing” is based on the effective date of the assignment, not the earlier date listed in the nunc pro tunc assignment.

However, for other purposes, the earlier assignment date listed in the nunc pro tunc assignment is the credited date. For example, an assignment of a registered trademark must be recorded with the US Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”). This is done electronically. The assignment must be uploaded along with the proper recordation form and applicable fee. For the USPTO, the trademark assignment is based on the date designated for the assignment rather than the date of execution of the nunc pro tunc assignment.

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