A trademark is any symbol‚ word‚ name‚ or phrase used by a business to identify the source of its goods and services. A manufacturer labels its product with a particular brand name or other identifier‚ in order to inform consumers that goods or services labeled with this symbol‚ word‚ name‚ or phrase‚ come from the same company. By labeling products with a trademark‚ the manufacturer hopes to develop a strong reputation for the trademark‚ including widespread knowledge of the trademark or brand name‚ quality associated with the trademark‚ and customer preference for products bearing the trademark. Such a reputation is known in trademark law as good will.
For example‚ if all manufacturers of laundry detergent simply labeled their products “Laundry Detergent” and packaged their products in generic containers‚ consumers would be unable to differentiate between the dozens of detergent manufacturers. If that were the case‚ consumers would be unable to develop any loyalty towards a particular manufacturer or differentiate between the relative quality of products. Manufacturers of laundry detergent such as Tide would be unable to develop any good will for their trademarks or strengthen their brand through advertising.
The Importance of Trademark Law
Trademark law allows businesses offering goods and services to brand their products with a logo‚ word‚ symbol‚ or phrase unique to them and unavailable for use by others in the same market. By maintaining a unique trademark‚ a manufacturer attempts to create an association between its trademark and a quality product. For example‚ Church and Dwight’s famous “Arm & Hammer” mark‚ used on household items‚ identifies the source of those goods. All products bearing the Arm & Hammer trademark are manufactured by that corporation. Consumers who purchase and are satisfied with products bearing this trademark may become loyal customers‚ resulting in higher sales for the trademark holder.
Furthermore‚ trademark law, codified primarily in the Lanham Act, protects the right of trademark owners to use their trademarks exclusively. Trademark law does not allow competitors to exploit trademarks that belong to others for use on their own products. This is called Trademark Infringement. For example‚ though it may be desirable for a competitor to attempt to deceive consumers into believing that the computer they are about to buy was manufactured by Apple‚ such use of that trademark would be prohibited under the Lanham Act. Under the Lanham Act competing computer manufacturers are prohibited from branding their line of personal computers with the trademark “APPLE‚” “HP‚” or any other registered trademarks which belong to other manufacturers.
When competitors misappropriate another’s trademark‚ certain undesirable results may occur. First‚ consumers may become confused as to the source of the goods. For example‚ if Company A placed an Arm & Hammer logo onto its line of baking soda and sold it in stores‚ consumers might believe that those boxes of baking soda were manufactured by Church & Dwight. Depending on the good will of the Arm & Hammer brand‚ consumers might be more likely to purchase a product they believe is an authentic Arm & Hammer product. Such use is known as Trademark Infringement and is prohibited under the Lanham Act.
Second‚ unauthorized use of a trademark on a non-competing product may cause a trademark to become diluted. Trademark Dilution occurs when a trademark is used on a product outside of the market for the original product. Such use dilutes the strength of the trademark and its association with the original product. For example‚ the trademark “Pepsi” is strongly associated with the cola soft drink manufactured by PepsiCo. However‚ if a lumber company were to begin to label their lumber products with the “Pepsi” trademark‚ the association between the “Pepsi” trademark and the soft drink could become blurred. Therefore‚ Trademark Dilution is prohibited under the Lanham Act and may be remedied by a federal cause of action.
Source of Trademark Law
Trademark law is largely governed by the Lanham Act. Enacted in 1946‚ the Lanham Act provides federal causes of actions for trademark infringement‚ trademark dilution‚ and false advertising. The Lanham Act also sets forth the requirements for Federal Trademark Registration. See How to Trademark. Rather than relying on the Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution‚ Congress relied on its Commerce Clause power to enact the Lanham Act.
There are two major trademark registries in the United States‚ the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register. Both registries are maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Principal Register contains the trademarks that are unique or strong. On the other hand‚ the Supplemental Register is reserved for trademarks that‚ at that time‚ do not qualify for registration on the Principal Register due to descriptiveness. Such trademarks may become eligible for registration in the future or internationally.