What Is a Trademark's Duration?

By Jennifer Mueller

A trademark identifies a particular manufacturer of goods, using a particular phrase, design or symbol. Designs, words or symbols used to identify a provider of services are called service marks, although there is no practical legal difference between trademarks and service marks. The mark ensures consumers can easily identify a particular company as the source of a product, and encourages brand loyalty. It also distinguishes and sets apart a particular company’s goods and services from others. This encourages companies to maintain consistent quality standards in the goods and services they produce. In some cases, trademark protection extends beyond words or symbols, encompassing "trade dress." For example, if a fitness drink company packaged its drinks in unique, triangle-shaped bottles, that shape would be entitled to trademark protection.

Trademark Rights

An individual or business acquires trademark rights either by being the first to use the mark in commerce in connection with specific goods and services, or by being the first to file an application for federal registration with an intent to use the mark. An unregistered mark may be followed by the TM (trademark) or SM (service mark) designation. This notifies the public that the individual or business associated with the mark claims ownership over it and is the first to use it in commerce. Once federally registered, the owner of the mark may use the ® designation.

Federal Registration Benefits

Not all federal trademark applications are approved. For example, if a mark is confusingly similar to another previously registered mark, the application will not be approved. Marks also cannot be merely descriptive, deceptive, or deceptively misdescriptive. Registration is not required. However, registered marks are national in scope. The owner of a registered mark has the right to sue for infringement in federal court. Registration also provides a public record of the date of first use in cases of infringement, and allows the owner to recover attorney’s fees, damages, lost profits and costs of infringement.

Protect your brand. Register My Trademark Now


Federal trademark registration remains valid for 10 years after filing, with optional 10-year renewal periods. To maintain active registration, the owner must file a “Declaration of Use” between the fifth and sixth year following the initial registration. If the declaration is not filed the registration is cancelled and cannot be reinstated. Owners wishing to renew registration must file for renewal within the last year of each term. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a six-month grace period for renewal, provided an additional fee is paid. If an owner fails to renew her registration, she must file a new registration application.

Loss of Trademark Rights

A trademark owner may lose trademark rights despite valid registration and renewal. If an owner stops using a mark in commerce, the trademark is considered abandoned. The law only protects marks as long as they are in continual use. Rights may also be lost if the owner improperly licenses his mark. Finally, a valid trademark may become generic over time, resulting in loss of rights. For example, the word “aspirin,” initially a trademark of the Bayer company, has become generic over time and is no longer subject to trademark protection, in the United States, but remains under trademark protection in Canada and in many European countries.

Protect your brand. Register My Trademark Now
Can I Trademark Before I Sell the Product?


Related articles

Trademark vs. Service Mark

Trademarks and service marks serve essentially the same purpose, but there are slight differences in how they're applied and communicated to your market. Both are administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This agency processes registrations for trademarks as well as service marks. Registration isn't mandatory, but it provides additional legal protection in certain situations.

Logo & Trademark Rules in the US

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as "a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others." A logo is a distinctive graphic design element that may be included in a trademark. Trademarks are governed by both state and federal law.

Enforcing A Trademark

Trademark law grants a monopoly on the use of a word, phrase, symbol or design that distinctively identifies a product used in commerce. You can protect your trademark locally by using it in commerce before anyone else does. You can protect it nationally by registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is also possible to protect your trademark internationally. You are entitled to sue an infringing party and collect damages.

File a Trademark Online. LegalZoom. Learn More.

Related articles

Trade Name Registration & Renewal in the State of Ohio

Ohio law permits you to register a trade name for your business which is used to designate and distinguish your ...

Are Company Slogans Copyrighted?

Federal copyright law grants exclusive rights to the use of “original works of authorship,” whether or not they are ...

Can the Owner of a Registered Trademark Be Sued for Infringement?

Trademark law is derived from common law that was intended to prohibit companies from competing in the market using ...

What Is the Consequence of Not Policing Your Trademark?

Trademark is any design, word or phrase that uniquely identifies your company's goods or services. Trademark rights ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED