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PHOTO CAPTION: Chevrolet CrossVolt concept car: a crossover with a Volt heart?

Trademark Application Renewal: Is A Chevy CrossVolt in the Works?

It's just paperwork, but is there more behind General Motor's decision to reapply for the CrossVolt trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office?

Published: 01-Jan-2015

GM's recent refiling for the CrossVolt trademark has stirred up a fair share of speculations about the company's intentions. Is it planning to develop a crossover version of the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle?

The answer to that question is likely known only to GM management, but it does illustrated something interesting about US patent law that might also hint at what GM might be planning.

The original Crossvolt trademark was owned by National Semiconductor Corporation and applied to an integrated circuit design, a completely different Goods & Service (G&S) from automobiles. They let it lapse in 2004 after their original filing in 1994.

In April of 2011, GM registered the CrossVolt trademark, which was listed for opposition in August of the same year. This is standard procedure. Before GM is granted exclusive use of the term, in this case, the word 'crossvolt', the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows a period of time for opposition to be filed to granting it. If a party files in opposition to a particular trademark application, it can take two or three years for it to be resolved if it end up before the USPTO court: an expensive and time-consuming litigation process. Typically, such challenges are settled quietly out of court between the two parties and the USPTO doesn't get involved.

Once awarded, a trademark is good for ten years, so GM's original filing, had it been approved in 2011, would mean it wouldn't be up for renewal until 2021. GM reapplying for the trademark this soon suggests that the trademark has been tied up on opposition by someone(s), and likely not National Semiconductor.

Here's why. GM's filing is for the use of the trademark in the automotive category. National Semiconductor, for example, applied for it under the 'integrated circuit' category. These are two completely different categories and filing similar word-based trademarks is generally permitted. Because it has been three years since GM's original filing, this suggests the application has been slowly working its way through the PTO tribunal and the court has not yet arrived at a decision on the merits of the challenge.

If this is the case, and this is pure speculation on my part, it would seem to suggest that GM is still determined to win the right to the CrossVolt mark. If they've been tied up in opposition for the last three years, it's likely cost them a nice chunk of change, though certainly nothing in the way of legal costs they probably used to dealing with. It would seem to say that the company is more than just passingly interested in the name for the name's sake. The cost of developing a new car platform dwarfs the costs of a trademark fight. When GM rolled out the Volt MPV5 concept car, pictured above, in 2010, it probably cost them a million dollars to develop, so a few tens or even hundreds of thousand in legal fees is decimal point dust in the grand scheme of things.

Still news that the company had reapplied for the trademark ignited a fresh round of speculation that the crossover Volt is back on the burner, and even that GM might be planning a surprise reveal at the North American International Auto Show next month in Detroit.

What is known is that GM plans to unveil the second generation Volt in Detroit in mid-January. It has already shown the car to current Volt owners in the Los Angeles area during the LA Auto Show in November. It also has shown teaser images of the front left corner of the car and recently posted a video of the interior of the car with Mark Reuss and Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah. The car is said to have more Corvette-inspired styling and increased EV-mode driving range, something current Volt owners have asked for repeatedly.

Whether a crossover version is in development, remains an unknown outside of the GM, but the shuffling of paperwork shouldn't be taken for anything more than what it is: a very, very big company likely hedging its bet on the future.

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