Friday, December 18, 2009

Trademarks: Year End Review

The end of the year is a good time to take stock of your business's assets. If those assets include product names and slogans, which often serve as trademarks or service marks, they should be reviewed. A trademark is typically a name or a picture that identifies a product and serves as an indicator of origin (i.e., your company). A good example of a trademark is the Nike Swoosh®. Whenever it appears on a shoe or a shirt, we know that the product has been made or licensed by Nike (counterfeiting is beyond the scope of this article). Similarly, the phrase "Just Do It® " is a service mark for Nike.

Trademarks depend on use. Unless a business is actively using the trademark in commerce, it will not have the trademark for very long. Trademarks can be common law trademarks (meaning use of the name as a source indicator without federal registration), or a federally registered trademark (entitled to use the ®). Federal registration can provide enhanced rights. Those businesses dependent on their own brand named goods should consider federal registration. Some local examples of federally registered trademarks include: Bobbex® (a trademark for non-toxic plant growth regulators for agricultural use); The Taunton Press® (a trademark for printed publications, namely magazines and books in the fields of cooking, crafts, gardening, knitting, home building, home design, sewing, and woodworking); and Sonics and Materials® (a trademark for ultrasonic, vibration, spin, hot plate and heat staking machines and devices for the welding, joining and fastening of thermal plastic components, textiles and other synthetic materials). One of the most famous trademarks, with Newtown roots, is Scrabble®. It has been federally registered since 1950.

For those with federally registered trademarks, making sure they are up to date is important, as there are some periodic filing requirements. Also, the end of the year is a good time to search the Internet to see if any competitors are infringing the trademark. A hypothetical example of an infringing trademark would be the use of the name "Bobbet" for a similar product to Bobbex®. Were this an actual infringement, the owner of the Bobbex® trademark should take action to protect its rights.