trademark law: an overview
Trademarks are generally distinctive symbols, pictures, or words that sellers affix to distinguish and identify the origin of their products. Trademark status may also be granted to distinctive and unique packaging, color combinations, building designs, product styles, and overall presentations. It is also possible to receive trademark status for identification that is not on its face distinct or unique but which has developed a secondary meaning over time that identifies it with the product or seller. The owner of a trademark has exclusive right to use it on the product it was intended to identify and often on related products. Service-marks receive the same legal protection as trademarks but are meant to distinguish services rather than products.
In the United States trademarks may be protected by both Federal statute under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051 - 1127, and states' statutory and/or common laws. Congress enacted the Lanham Act under its Constitutional grant of authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. See U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. A trademark registered under the Lanham Act has nationwide protection. See § 1115 of the Act.
Under the Lanham Act, a seller applies to register a trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office. The mark can already be in use or be one that will be used in the future. See § 1051 of the act. The Office's regulations pertaining to trademarks are found in Parts 1 - 7 of Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations. If the trademark is initially, approved by an examiner, it is published in the Official Gazette of the Trademark Office to notify other parties of the pending approval so that it may be opposed. See §§ 1062 - 1063 of the Act. An appeals process is available for rejected applications. See §§ 1070 - 1071 of the Act.
Under state common law, trademarks are protected as part of the law of unfair competition. Registration is not required. See Unfair Competition. States' statutory provisions on trademarks differ but most have adopted a version of the Model Trademark Bill (MTB) or the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA). The MTB provides for registration of trademarks while the UDTPA does not.
Further protection of trademarks is provided by the Tariff Act of 1930. See 19 U.S.C. § 1526.
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