The childhood game of “Captain May I?” (Wikipedia article) irritated me greatly as a child. I had little patience for it. The premise of the game is that words do not mean what they seem to mean. In this game, a string of words which on its face is an instruction to take three steps forward does not actually count as an instruction to take three steps forward unless it is followed up by the query “Captain May I?” which is in turn followed by an automatic grant of permission by the “captain”. The conceit of the game is that any and all requests to the captain for such permission are automatically granted, so that after a few minutes of play one sort of assumes that because the requests are always granted, there should not really be a need to ask. But the “gotcha” in the game is that you must ask, even though the asking is pointless.
Today I was gobsmacked to learn that the USPTO plays “Captain May I?” with US designations of Hague Agreement applications (international design applications). If as a child you were to get tricked and forget to ask “Captain May I?” the consequences would merely be that you return to the starting line of the game. But as a design applicant if you get tricked and forget to ask “USPTO May I?” the consequence is, it seems, that you lose your priority claim. I am not making this up. Continue reading