Trademark Law



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A Trademark or service mark is a distinctive word, phrase, slogan, name, graphic symbol, picture, emblem, device, design, logo or any combination thereof which is used in commerce to identify and distinguish a company’s products or services from that of another company and to indicate the source of the goods or services. A service mark does the same thing as a trademark, but instead of products, service marks identify services and events.

Trademark law governs the use of trademarks and service marks. Trademarks are a form of intellectual property. The law entitles the owner(s) to exclusive use of the mark in relation to the products or services for which it is registered. The law in most jurisdictions also allows the owner of a registered trademark to prevent unauthorized use of the mark in relation to products or services which are identical or similar to the registered products or services, know as trademark infringement.

Trademark infringement occurs when one party adopts or uses a trademark that is confusingly similar to the prior adopted and used trademark for similar products or services. To prove infringement the mark’s owner(s) must prove that the infringer’s use of the mark has created a likelihood of confusion about the origin of the defendant's goods or services. The confusion created can be that the infringer’s products are the same as that of the owner(s) or that the infringer is somehow associated, affiliated, connected, approved, authorized or sponsored by the owner(s). The necessity of the confusion element has been well established under both federal and state case law.

Trademarks are governed by both state and federal law. State common law originally provided the main source of protection of trademarks, but over time, federal trademark law has assumed much of the ground originally covered by state common law and now provides the main source of trademark protection. The main federal statute is the Trademark Act of 1946, as amended (the Lanham Act) which codified much of the existing common law on trademarks. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is responsible for administering all laws relating to trademarks and patents in the U.S.

Rights to a trademark can be acquired by either being the first to register the mark with the PTO, or by being the first to use the mark in commerce, which provides protection at the state level by statute and/or common law. To obtain the greatest protection for a mark, it is usually advisable to register the mark. A mark which is registered with the PTO should be marked with the ® symbol. Unregistered trademarks should be marked with a “tm”, and unregistered service marks should be marked with an “sm”.

Trademark rights can be lost through improper licensing, assignment, genericity or abandonment. If the use of a trademark is licensed without adequate quality control or supervision by the trademark owner, the trademark will be canceled. And if the rights to a trademark are assigned to another party in gross, without corresponding sale of any assets, the trademark will be canceled. Genericity is when a trademark loses its distinctiveness over time and becomes generic, thereby losing its trademark protection. Trademark rights must be maintained through actual lawful use of the mark for a period of time, which varies, or rights to the mark will cease. In addition, if a mark’s registered owner(s) fail to enforce the registration in the event of infringement, it may also expose the registration to become liable for an application for removal from the register after a certain period of time on the grounds of “non-use”. Copyright HG.org

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Articles on HG.org Related to Trademark Law

  • Harvard Professor Fires Back Against Copyright Infringement Claims
    Harvard University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig is fighting back against allegations that his online lecture posted on YouTube violates the copyright to a French pop song. Fittingly, Lessig is a respected expert on law and technology as well as an advocate for less restrictive copyright laws.
  • Internet Enables Thieves to Steal $4 Billion in Tax Refunds
    Criminals are utilizing their Internet connection to file false tax returns that help them steal refunds from the innocent. In 2013, fraudulent returns saw almost $4 billion sent into the hands of scam artists. Making things worse is the fact that the Internal Revenue Service is having a hard time stopping the fraud from happening in the first place.
  • Copyright FAQ: What is Considered Fair Use?
    When deciding whether you can use someone else’s work without permission, there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration. One of the most important limitations to copyright protection is the doctrine of fair use.
  • Are You Getting Shortchanged on Patent Royalties?
    Licensing intellectual property can be a lucrative stream of revenue. However, businesses need to have procedures in place to ensure accurate reporting and royalty payments.
  • GAO Reports Sheds Light on Impact of NPEs
    The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently released a report on the impact of non-practicing entities (NPEs). The findings debunk many of the criticisms waged against so-called “patent trolls.”
  • Presidential Hopefuls Taking Heat for Possible Copyright Infringement
    Every election season, at least one of the candidates seems to end up in legal hot water over music used by the campaign. in 2012, it was Newt Gingrich. He is facing a copyright infringement lawsuit for his use of the Rocky III theme song, "Eye of the Tiger."
  • Green Technology Pilot Program Marks 500th Patent
    The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that it has issued the 500th patent through its Green Technology Pilot Program. Under the patent program, applications involving reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation, and environmental quality are eligible for accelerated review at no cost to the inventor.
  • A Call for Big Patent Changes
    Federal Judge Richard Posner recently dismissed the high-profile intellectual property litigation between Apple and Motorola, after determining that neither side could prove damages.
  • Are Neutral Experts the Key to Complicated IP Litigation?
    Judge Richard Posner is taking a novel approach to the upcoming patent litigation between Apple and Motorola. He is using court-appointed witnesses to explain complicated subject matter.
  • What Does Neil Young Have Against MP3s? Rock Legend Seeks Trademark for New Audio Format
    Legendary rocker Neil Young reportedly does not like how his songs currently sound on his iPod. To remedy the problem, he is working on a new, high-resolution audio format to replace MP3s, as evidenced by several trademarks applications recently filed on his behalf.
  • All Intellectual Property Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Intellectual Property including: copyright, domain names, licensing law, patents, trade secrets and trademark.

Trademark Law - US

  • ABA - Intellectual Property Law Section - Trademarks

    The work of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL) - through its eight Divisions and over 60 committees- is the foundation and heart of our productive efforts as the largest and most influential organization of intellectual property lawyers in the world.

  • Intellectual Property Rights e-Recordation (IPRR) - Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

    The U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security, maintains a trademark recordation system for marks registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Parties who register their marks on the Principal Register may record these marks with CBP, to assist CPB in its efforts to prevent the importation of goods that infringe registered marks. The recordation database includes information regarding all recorded marks, including images of these marks. CBP officers monitor imports to prevent the importation of goods bearing infringing marks, and can access the recordation database at each of the 317 ports of entry.

  • Lanham Act of 1946 (Trademark Act)

    The Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051 et seq., was enacted by Congress in 1946 based on the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause. It provides for a national system of trademark registration and protects the owner of a federally registered mark against the use of similar marks if such use is likely to result in consumer confusion, or if the dilution of a famous mark is likely to occur. The scope of the Lanham Act is independent of and concurrent with state common law.

  • Madrid Protocol

    The Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks -- the Madrid Protocol -- is one of two treaties comprising the Madrid System for international registration of trademarks. The protocol is a filing treaty and not a substantive harmonization treaty. It provides a cost-effective and efficient way for trademark holders -- individuals and businesses -- to ensure protection for their marks in multiple countries through the filing of one application with a single office, in one language, with one set of fees, in one currency.

  • Trademark Law - Overview

    Trademarks were traditionally protected in the United States only under State common law, growing out of the tort of unfair competition. As early as 1791, Thomas Jefferson proposed that the marks of sailcloth makers could be protected under the Commerce Clause, but it was not until 1870 that Congress first attempted to establish a federal regime for the protection of trademarks. This statute, purported to be an exercise of the Copyright Clause powers, was struck down in the Trade-Mark Cases, leading Congress to finally create a successful act under its Commerce Clause power in 1881.

  • Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP)

    The Manual is published to provide trademark examining attorneys in the USPTO, trademark applicants, and attorneys and representatives for trademark applicants with a reference work on the practices and procedures relative to prosecution of applications to register marks in the USPTO. The Manual contains guidelines for Examining Attorneys and materials in the nature of information and interpretation, and outlines the procedures which Examining Attorneys are required or authorized to follow in the examination of trademark applications.

  • Trademark Process - US Patent and Trademark Office

    There are three types of intellectual property: trademarks, patents and copyrights. The Trademark Office of the USPTO handles trademarks only. If you have now determined that a trademark is what you need, your second step should be to familiarize yourself with the general rules and requirements for applying for a trademark registration.

  • Trademark Trial and Appeal Board

    The TTAB is an administrative board that hears and decides adversary proceedings between two parties, namely, oppositions (party opposes a mark after publication in the Official Gazette ) and cancellations (party seeks to cancel an existing registration). The TTAB also handles interference and concurrent use proceedings, as well as appeals of final refusals issued by USPTO examining attorneys within the course of the prosecution of applications.

  • US Patent and Trademark Office

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the Federal agency for granting U.S. patents and registering trademarks. In doing this, the USPTO fulfills the mandate of Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the Constitution that the Executive branch "promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries." The USPTO registers trademarks based on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3). Under this system of protection, American industry has flourished.

Trademark Law in Europe

  • European Communities Trademark Association

    ECTA brings together all those persons practising professionally in the Member States of the European Community in the field of trade marks, designs and related IP matters. These professionals are trade mark advisors, trade mark attorneys, lawyers practising in industry and all others who can be considered specialist practitioners in these areas. ECTA is therefore, an association made up of individuals coming from industry and from private practice, who have a common interest concerning the protection of trade marks and designs in the European Union.

  • MARQUES - Association of European Trademark Owners

    MARQUES, which was founded in 1987, is the association of European trade mark owners. MARQUES represents trade mark owners’ interests before the relevant EU and other international bodies in all relevant areas. It also organises networking and educational events and promotes communication between brand owners in Europe. The MARQUES website provides a wide range of information and general IP resources of use to both trade mark owners and legal practitioners.

  • Trademarks and Designs Registration Office - EU

    OHIM is the European Union agency responsible for registering trade marks and designs that are valid in all 27 countries of the EU.

Trademark Law - International

  • International Trademark Association

    The International Trademark Association (INTA) is a not-for-profit membership association of more than 5,500 trademark owners and professionals, from more than 190 countries, dedicated to the support and advancement of trademarks and related intellectual property as elements of fair and effective national and international commerce.

  • Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks

    The Madrid system for the international registration of marks (the Madrid system) established in 1891 functions under the Madrid Agreement (1891), and the Madrid Protocol (1989). It is administered by the International Bureau of WIPO located in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Trademark Law Treaty

    The aim of the Trademark Law Treaty (TLT) is to approximate and streamline national and regional trademark registration procedures. This is achieved through the simplification and harmonization of certian features of those procedures, thus making trademark applications and the administration of trademark registrations in multiple jurisdictions less complex and more predictable.

  • Trademarks - International Guide

    Find information on trademark legislation by country.

  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

    The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It is dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property (IP) system, which rewards creativity, stimulates innovation and contributes to economic development while safeguarding the public interest. WIPO was established by the WIPO Convention in 1967 with a mandate from its Member States to promote the protection of IP throughout the world through cooperation among states and in collaboration with other international organizations. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. The Director General is Francis Gurry.

  • World Trademark Report

    The World Trademark Report is a daily email service that provides Newsletter Updates on trademark developments from over 60 jurisdictions. The Newsletter Updates are written by a panel of 200 leading trademark lawyers from both national and international law firms. They are written in a clear and concise manner, and are designed specifically for senior lawyers in industry and private practice, as well as government and regulatory officials.

Organizations Related to Trademark Law

  • AIPLA - Trademark Law Committee

    AIPLA is a national bar association constituted primarily of lawyers in private and corporate practice, in government service, and in the academic community. AIPLA represents a wide and diverse spectrum of individuals, companies and institutions involved directly or indirectly in the practice of patent, trademark, copyright, trade secret, and unfair competition law, as well as other fields of law affecting intellectual property. Our members represent both owners and users of intellectual property.

  • StopFakes.gov

    In October of 2004, the Bush Administration announced an initiative that reinforced this objective – the Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP!). STOP! is led by the White House and brings together the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the State Department, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. STOP! is the most comprehensive initiative ever advanced to fight global piracy by systematically dismantling piracy networks, blocking counterfeits at our borders, helping American businesses secure and enforce their rights around the world, and collaborating with our trading partners to ensure the fight against fakes is global.