A trademark is a combination of words or symbols that identifies and distinguishes a product or service of an individual or company. Commercial use automatically creates common-law trademark rights that last as long as the mark remains in commercial use. You can also register and maintain a trademark with your state or with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Federal registration and maintenance is more expensive, but it provides a public record of the trademark claim and the ability to sue in federal court to protect your rights. You must periodically renew and monitor your claim to prevent expiration or abandonment.
Between the fifth and sixth years after initial trademark registration, you must file a sworn Declaration of Continued Use showing that you are using the mark in commerce. After five years of continued use, you can apply for an incontestable registration, which provides conclusive evidence of your trademark rights. You must file a combined Declaration of Continued Use and Renewal Application and a specimen of use every ten years, beginning with the tenth year after initial registration. A specimen can be a photograph of a product label or other example of the mark used in commerce. If you do not renew, the USPTO will cancel the registration.
Police the Mark
If you choose to register a trademark claim, you must regularly check for unauthorized use of your trademark. If someone else uses your trademark, the mark will no longer distinguish your goods or services from those of another individual or company. You may want to send a cease-and-desist letter or file a lawsuit against anyone who uses your trademark in ways that are confusingly similar to your use of the mark. If you do not object when someone else uses your mark, a court may determine that you have abandoned the mark.
Keep records of your use of the mark and try to use the mark continuously. If you stop using the mark in commerce, a court can determine that you have abandoned the mark. If you temporarily stop using the mark, keep a record of the date and reasons why you stopped and the approximate date that you will resume using the mark. State in a sworn Declaration of Non-Use any reasons or special circumstances that excuse the non-use and that prove that you have not abandoned the mark.
Discourage Generic Use
When people repeatedly use your trademark as an ordinary word, the trademark can become a generic term. For example, the words aspirin and cellophane were once trademarks, according to the Citizen Media Law Project. If you permit generic use of your trademark, you cannot prevent others from associating your trademark with their own goods and services. Consumers should understand that your trademark refers to the goods or services of a particular company or individual. You can set an example by using the mark only in connection with your goods or services.