In short, a trademark is valid for the duration it is used in commerce (see description below for description of what is considered used in commerce).
A trademark refers to “any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things” that can be used to identify goods and services. (1). By providing a means for identification, a trademark grants the owner the rights “to how that word or phrase is used with [their] specific goods or services.” (1).
A trademark can be either non-registered or registered. For non-registered trademarks, a person becomes the owner of a trademark as soon as they start using the trademark with their goods and services, without submitting any documents to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). (1). A non-registered trademark grants the owner limited rights that are limited to the geographic area in which the goods and services are provided (1). In contrast, a registered trademark, obtained by submitting an application to the USPTO, grants the owner broad nationwide rights in protecting the use of their trademark. (1).
Trademarks are unique, as compared to patents and copyrights, as they “do not expire after a set period of time.” (2). So long as the trademark is used in commerce and is defended against infringers, the trademark is valid. A trademark is considered used in commerce if it is used “in the ordinary course of trade, and not made merely to reserve a right in a mark.” (3). Although, there exists no clear rule to determine whether a trademark is used in commerce a trademark will be considered used in commerce if “the mark is placed on the goods, on the container of the goods, displays associated with the goods, or on the tags or labels.” (4).
Importantly, for the trademark to remain valid, the owner must take several steps throughout its life to maintain it. First, between five and six years after the trademark is registered, the owner must submit a declaration to the USPTO showing either that the trademark is currently being used in commerce or is not in use due to excusable circumstances. (4). Second, ten years after the trademark is registered, and every ten years following, the owner must submit 1) “photographic evidence of a product, using the trademark available for sale,” and 2) a declaration that the product is used in commerce. So long as the owner of a registered trademark takes these necessary steps to secure it, the rights associated with it will be maintained.
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