Protect Your Brand: The Duty to Police Trademarks

So, you’ve found and registered a unique brand.  Congratulations!  That’s a major accomplishment!  However, once you have rights in a brand, you need to make sure you keep those rights in tact to protect the brand.

Although you are not required to prosecute (or even act immediately against) every potential infringer of your brands, you do have a legal duty to protect against infringement and act reasonably in protecting your trademark rights.  If you fail to properly “police” your marks, you risk diminishing the value of your brand, damaging your goodwill, and weakening your mark.police-294107_1280

In extreme cases, failure to police a mark can lead to abandonment of all trademark rights in the mark.  For example, ASPIRIN used to be a brand name owed by Bayer and ESCALATOR used to be owned by Otis Elevator Company…but these marks became so widely used as the name of the underlying products themselves that the marks became generic terms for those products, and both companies eventually lost their trademark rights in the names.  (Unlike a trademark, a generic name consists of the word commonly used to identify a product.  For example, the terms “computer,” “software” and “internet” are generic names and anyone is free to use them.)

To protect your marks and prevent competitors from using confusingly similar marks that could affect your reputation and bottom line, you should implement a plan to monitor your marks and enforce your rights when necessary.

To help you monitor your marks, you may want to sign up for Watch Services that will notify you of potential issues, such as new trademarks filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Secretary of State Offices or in foreign countries, as well as domain name filings, common law marks and corporate filings.  At the very least, you may want to set up Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your brand or products on the Internet.  If you have licensed any of your marks to third parties, you should monitor your licensees’ use of your marks as well.

In the event you become aware of a potential infringing or confusingly similar mark, you can determine (in consultation with your trademark attorney) what, if any, actions you may want to take to protect your trademark rights.  Depending on the situation, you may decide to send a cease and desist letter to the infringing party, file an Opposition or Cancellation action with the USPTO, file a lawsuit in State or Federal Court, pursue a combination of these options, or decide on a different strategy.

 

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