Trademarks are one of three major categories in United States intellectual property law. They are administrated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, and their legal protections are enforced nationwide. They are one of the most powerful forms of intellectual property, primarily because they can be used to uniquely identify companies, products and services.
Although trademarks are part of the everyday lives of millions of people, there are quite a few things about them the average person probably doesn’t know. None of these facts are mysterious, but a few of them can be surprising.
Trademarks Never Expire
Unlike copyrights and patents, which have expiration dates set by federal statute, a trademark theoretically can remain in effect indefinitely, provided it is properly utilized and defended. Once a trademark is first used in commerce, there is no formal date beyond which it no longer applies. This doesn’t necessarily mean trademarks are eternal, but there is no date beyond which they become part of the public domain like patented inventions or copyrighted works.
Any symbol, pictograph, word or slogan declared as a trademark and used in commerce technically has protection under the law. These marks can be announced by affixing a “TM” to them. This notifies both the public and any potential competitors that the trademark is off-limits from that point forward. This is often referred to as a “common law” trademark. It doesn’t have full legal protection, but it can be defended if necessary.
Circle R is a Protected Symbol
When a trademark is registered with the United States government and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it becomes eligible to use the recognizable “Circle R” symbol. This particular symbol has considerable protections under U.S. law and may not be used without authorization. This makes the “Circle R” somewhat unique among legally recognized symbols as there are no penalties for using the “Circle C” for a copyrighted work, even if the work is not yet registered.
There are circumstances under which characters can become trademarks. Everyone has encountered the many cartoon and comic book characters displayed on various kinds of breakfast cereals. Many of those characters can be defended under both copyright and trademark law because their owners can point to the character’s likeness as being art that uniquely identifies their product and brand. A good example of such a character is Mickey Mouse.
Trademarks Made History
The most intellectually protected product in American history included a trademark on the name “Mouse Trap.” The Ideal board game, which was released in 1963, included a mechanism which was patented in 1969, a copyright on the game board itself and a trademark on the game’s name “Mouse Trap.” The game was one of the few products in all industry that ever qualified for all three major categories of intellectual property protection at the same time.
Trademarks are one of those areas of business that can be easily misunderstood. This is one reason many entrepreneurs are encouraged to seek the counsel of a qualified intellectual property attorney as early as possible so they can obtain maximum protection for their inventions.