Once a Trademark, Not Always a Trademark
-The United States Trademark Law
Several years ago, I joined a meeting on trademark design and branding for one of my uncles' company. At that time, I mainly focus on the "art" of designing; after I became a business school student last year, I gained more and more interests in the marketing side of its significance: Trademark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities. The name or specific characteristics of certain product is crucial for businesses in terms of marketing strategies that emphasis on the power of public praises. "Companies such as Nike, Microsoft [...] spend millions of dollars annually to gain market recognition from consumers."(Textbook, p200) In response to the great importance, the Congress enacted the Lanham Act to start providing federal protection to trademarks in 1946 , also to protect customers from being confused as to the origin of goods and services (Textbook, p200). Currently, the trademark law has both states and federal level. (Lecture note, Spring 2012) Through the next 66 years, since the law keeps developing in varies of aspects for regulation, which brings up issues around trademarks, this year, I think that it should be more rational for my uncle to hire a lawyer to his trademark meeting for consultation. In the life cycle of trademark: selection, protection, maintenance and enforcement, (Lecture notes, Spring 2012) the law embodies several of her functions. Firstly, protection, which as mentioned before, is the root where the law came from. Once the trademark is registered, "the registrant is entitled to use the registered symbol ® in connection with a registered trademark or service mark [...] serves as constructive notice that the mark is the registrants' personal property."(Textbook, p200), which represents the protection under the law. It should be noted that, although we could usually see notations such as "TM" or "SM", they are not legally bounded, only means "trademark" and "service mark" without registration with the U.S. PTO. Apart from public recognition, the mark is also granted with a life of 10 years and it can be renewed for an unlimited number of 10-year periods. (Textbook, p200) However, if it is not been used for three years, it is considered to be abandoned by business. This brings out a case brought up by Macy's against Strategic Marks LLC, who began applying for the rights to old department-store trademarks, such as Robinsons, Jordan Marsh, and Abraham & Straus, which, according to the report, "was abandoned by Macy's years ago". It seems that the case should be pretty straight-forward, that since the trademarks was abandoned under the law, other applicants can register them for the 10-year protection. However, to my personal concern, it is understandable that Macy's "spares no effort" to fight them back. Trademark belongs to the family of intellectual property, which is valuable to both businesses and individuals, that carries goodwill and potential value that cannot be easily measured. Also, as soon as it is recognized by law, the owners could be granted exclusive rights, including financial incentives, that encourages and awards further researches as well as creations of the applicant : which is also the second function of law that embodied in the trademark issue. Therefore, since the old trademarks used to exist for years and had great impact on people's memory, it could be considered as intangible assets with huge value for businesses. As a personal example, I saw a new product with the trademark of a really popular company when I was little in last weekend in farmer's market. Although I am not a fan of that product, I still bought it...
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