How Long Does a Trademark Last? The Ultimate Guide

15 minutes

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Andrew Rapacke is a registered patent attorney and serves as Managing Partner at The Rapacke Law Group, a full service intellectual property law firm.
How Long Does A Trademark Last

How long does a trademark last, and why is it crucial to register it? The registration of your trademark plays a pivotal role in identifying the source of your goods or services, providing legal protection for your brand, and safeguarding against counterfeiting and fraud. Without proper registration, your brand could be left vulnerable and unprotected.

A trademark is a legally registered symbol, word, or combination of words and symbols that identifies and distinguishes a product, service, or company from others in the marketplace. Trademarks are a form of intellectual property and serve to protect the brand identity and reputation of a business. They can take various forms, including:

  1. Words: These include brand names, slogans, and other verbal symbols. For example, “Coca-Cola” is a trademark.
  2. Logos and Symbols: These are graphical representations unique to a brand, such as the Apple logo.
  3. Combination Marks: A combination of words and logos or symbols, like the Nike swoosh paired with the word “Nike.”
  4. Colors and Sounds: Some trademarks are based on specific colors or sounds. For instance, the distinctive shade of brown used by UPS is trademarked, and the Intel jingle is a trademarked sound.

Trademarks serve several important functions:

  1. Brand Recognition: They help consumers identify and distinguish products or services from one company as compared to those from others.
  2. Brand Protection: Trademarks offer legal protection to the brand owner, allowing them to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, which could dilute the brand’s distinctiveness or cause consumer confusion.
  3. Quality Assurance: Trademarks convey a sense of quality and consistency associated with the brand, as consumers may have certain expectations when they see a recognized trademark.
  4. Asset Value: Trademarks can be valuable assets for a business. They can be licensed, sold, or used as collateral for loans.

To establish and protect a trademark, a person or company typically needs to register it with the relevant government authority, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the United States. This registration provides legal rights and protection for the trademark. Trademarks are usually subject to renewal, and protection requires actively defending against unauthorized use by others.

It’s important to note that trademark laws and regulations can vary from one country to another, so it’s essential for businesses to understand and comply with the rules and requirements in their respective jurisdictions. Additionally, registering a trademark does not mean you legally own the word or phrase. Other business owners may be able to use the word/phrase you’ve trademarked without violating the law, depending on the circumstances. Rely on our trademark attorneys for guidance; we’ll do everything possible to enforce your legal protections and safeguard your intellectual property.

Do Trademarks Ever Expire?

Trademarks do not expire automatically as long as they remain in use and the proper fees are paid. As long as the proper fees are paid and your trademark is being used in commerce, trademark protection can last indefinitely. However, it is subject to certain conditions and requirements. Here’s what you need to know about the potential expiration or loss of trademark protection:

  1. Maintenance Renewals: In the United States, trademark owners must periodically renew their trademark registrations. This usually involves filing renewal applications and paying renewal fees. Specific deadlines for filing trademark renewals can be found with the relevant trademark office.
  2. Use in Commerce: To maintain trademark protection, the trademark must continue to be used in commerce for the goods and services listed in the initial application. Failure to use the trademark can lead to its abandonment, resulting in the loss of protection. The specific requirements for “use in commerce” can vary, so it’s vital to be aware of and comply with these rules.
  3. Protecting Against Genericization: If a trademark becomes so commonly used that it becomes a generic term for a product or service, it might lose its trademark protection. This phenomenon is known as “genericide.” For example, the term “aspirin” was once a trademark but became generic for the pain reliever itself. To prevent this, trademark owners must actively enforce their trademark rights.
  4. Challenges and Invalidation: Trademarks can be challenged and invalidated by third parties if they believe the trademark is not valid or infringes on their rights. Successful challenges or legal actions can lead to the loss of trademark protection.
  5. Geographic or Non-Use Limitations: In some cases, a trademark registration may be limited to specific geographic areas or particular types of goods or services. If the trademark isn’t used within those limits, protection might be lost for the unused areas or classes.
  6. Expired Registrations: If a trademark registration isn’t renewed according to the schedule set by the relevant trademark office, it may expire, causing the loss of its legal protection. Once expired, the only recourse is to refile an application for registration.

It’s vital for trademark owners to stay informed about their obligations and rights related to their trademarks and to proactively protect and maintain them. Trademark attorneys or professionals can provide guidance on trademark maintenance and ensure that trademarks remain valid and effectively protect the brand.

What Happens When a Trademark Expires?

When a trademark registration expires, the legal protections and rights associated with that trademark are no longer effective. The specific consequences of a trademark expiration can vary by jurisdiction and the circumstances surrounding the expiration, but here are some common outcomes:

  1. Loss of Legal Protection: The most notable consequence of a trademark expiration is the loss of legal protection for that mark. Without an active trademark registration, the owner no longer has exclusive rights to use that mark for their goods or services.
  2. Inability to Enforce Rights: An expired trademark typically means the owner loses the ability to enforce their trademark rights against others using a confusingly similar mark. This situation allows other businesses to use the same or similar mark without facing trademark infringement claims.
  3. Exposure to Infringement: Without active trademark registration, the trademark owner may become more vulnerable to infringement. Competitors might start using a similar trademark, and the owner’s ability to take legal action might be limited.
  4. Reapplication: It may be possible to reapply for a trademark registration after it has expired. This process is often treated as a new application, and the trademark owner might need to go through the registration process from the start, addressing any potential objections or oppositions.
  5. Loss of Priority Rights: In some jurisdictions, the priority rights associated with a trademark registration might be lost upon expiration. If others apply for the same or similar trademark during the expiration period, they could gain priority rights over the original trademark owner.
  6. Rebranding or Relaunching: If a trademark expires and the owner no longer has the legal rights to use it, they might need to consider rebranding or relaunching their products or services under a different name or mark.

It’s crucial for trademark owners to be proactive in renewing their trademark registrations and complying with renewal requirements and deadlines set by the relevant trademark office. Renewing a trademark registration before it expires ensures the continuous protection and exclusivity of the trademark. If a trademark has expired, it’s wise to consult a trademark attorney or professional to explore options for reestablishing protection or addressing the situation properly.

How Long Does a Trademark Take To Register?

The time it takes to register a trademark can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the complexity of your application and whether any issues or challenges arise during the registration process. Here’s a general overview of the time it takes to register a trademark:

  1. Filing Time: The initial step in trademark registration is to file the application with the USPTO. The time it takes to prepare and submit the application varies, but it’s typically a matter of a week or two.
  2. Examination Period: After you submit your application, the trademark office reviews it to ensure it meets all the necessary requirements. This examination period can vary from a few months to a year or more, depending on the jurisdiction, workload, and office actions.
  3. Publication: Approved trademark applications are published for opposition. During this period, third parties may oppose the registration if they believe it infringes on their own trademarks. The opposition period is a set time of 30 days; however, it adds to the wait time for achieving a registration.
  4. Registration: Once your application passes examination and the publication period, the trademark office will issue the registration certificate. This can take a few months.

The entire process, from filing to registration, can take anywhere from several months to several years, depending on the specific circumstances. In some cases, expedited or fast-track options may be available for an additional fee in certain jurisdictions, which can speed up the process. It’s important to be aware that trademark registration can also be delayed if there are issues with your application, such as objections from the trademark office or opposition from third parties. In such cases, the registration process can take longer.

For a more accurate estimate, it’s advisable to consult with a trademark attorney or professional familiar with the local rules and processes. They can provide guidance and assistance to help navigate the registration process efficiently. Additionally, you can check with the USPTO to get an accurate timeline of how long your registration process can take.

Can You Lose a Trademark If You Don’t Use It?

Yes, you can lose a trademark if you don’t use it. Trademarks are typically protected and maintained through active use in commerce. If a trademark owner stops using their trademark for an extended period of time, they may risk losing their legal rights and protection associated with that trademark. This concept is often referred to as “abandonment.”

The specifics of trademark abandonment can vary, but the following general principles apply:

  1. Non-Use Period: Trademark laws often specify a period of non-use after which a trademark is considered abandoned. The length of this period can vary but is typically three years.
  2. Intent to Abandon: In some cases, if a trademark owner has a clear intent not to use the trademark in the future, this can lead to abandonment.
  3. Lack of Genuine Use: To maintain a trademark, the use of the mark must be genuine and not merely token use. If a trademark is used in a way that is minimal or deceptive, it may not be sufficient to prevent abandonment.
  4. Failure to Correct Non-Use: If a trademark owner is aware of non-use but fails to rectify the situation by resuming genuine use, it can lead to abandonment.

It’s important for trademark owners to actively use their trademarks in connection with the goods or services for which they are registered. If there are circumstances that prevent the use of the trademark for a period, it’s advisable to consult with a trademark attorney or professional to understand the implications and explore strategies for maintaining the trademark.

To avoid losing a trademark due to non-use, it’s essential to stay informed about the legal requirements and actively manage your trademark assets.

How Many Times Can a Trademark Be Renewed?

The number of times a trademark can be renewed is typically not limited, and in many cases, trademark registrations can be renewed indefinitely, as long as the necessary renewal requirements are met. Here are some general principles regarding trademark renewals:

  1. Renewal Period: The USPTO requires owners to renew their registrations periodically. The renewal period is between the fifth and sixth years after registration, between the ninth and tenth years after registration, and then every ten years thereafter.
  2. Timely Renewals: To keep a trademark registration in force, the trademark owner must submit a renewal application and pay the renewal fees within the prescribed timeframes. Failing to do so may result in the expiration of the trademark.
  3. Renewal Requirements: When renewing a trademark, the USPTO requires the trademark owner to confirm that the trademark is still in use for the registered goods or services and must provide a related specimen showing use.
  4. Continual Compliance: Maintaining a trademark registration also requires compliance with other obligations, such as responding to office actions, attending to trademark disputes, and ensuring that the trademark is not used in a way that may lead to abandonment.
  5. Continuous Use: Trademarks should continue to be used in commerce for the goods or services for which they are registered. Continuous non-use could lead to the abandonment of the trademark.

The ability to renew a trademark multiple times is beneficial for businesses that want to protect their brand identity and maintain exclusivity over their marks over the long term. However, it’s important for trademark owners to stay aware of renewal deadlines and comply with the relevant requirements to ensure that their trademarks remain in force. Feel free to reach out to us today for assistance in the renewal process and to ensure your trademarks are properly maintained.

Will a Registered Trademark Last Forever if it is Renewed Every 10 Years?

A registered trademark can potentially last indefinitely if it is regularly renewed every 10 years and if the trademark owner continues to meet all other legal requirements and obligations associated with trademark maintenance. Trademark registrations can be renewed multiple times, allowing them to provide protection for a long period, as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. Timely Renewals: The trademark owner must submit renewal applications and pay the required renewal fees within the specified timeframes set by the USPTO. The renewal period is between the fifth and sixth years after registration, between the ninth and tenth years after registration, and then every ten years thereafter.
  2. Continued Use: The trademark must be actively and genuinely used in connection with the registered goods or services.
  3. Compliance with Legal Requirements: The trademark owner must comply with all legal obligations, including responding to office actions, maintaining the accuracy of the trademark registration, and ensuring that the trademark is not used in a way that might lead to abandonment.
  4. No Challenges or Opposition: The trademark must not be subject to successful challenges or opposition by third parties that result in its cancellation or invalidation.
  5. Payment of Renewal Fees: The trademark owner must pay the required renewal fees at each renewal stage. Failure to pay these fees can lead to the expiration of the trademark.

As long as these conditions are consistently met, a registered trademark can be renewed every 10 years, allowing it to provide ongoing protection and exclusivity for the brand. It’s important for trademark owners to stay informed about the renewal requirements and deadlines in their jurisdiction and to actively manage their trademark assets to ensure continued protection. If you need help or assistance in ensuring the continuous protection of your trademark, feel free to reach out to us.

What Are the Requirements for a Trademark?

Here are the fundamental requirements for a trademark:

  1. Distinctiveness: A mark must be distinctive to be eligible for trademark protection. This means it should distinguish the goods or services of one entity from those of others. Marks can be categorized as:
    1. Fanciful marks: Invented terms with no preexisting meaning, like “Xerox” for photocopiers.
    2. Arbitrary marks: Words used in contexts unrelated to their standard meaning, such as “Apple” for computers.
    3. Suggestive marks: Marks that hint at the product or service but don’t directly describe it, like “Microsoft” for software.
    4. Descriptive marks: Those that describe the product or service, e.g., “American Airlines.” These can receive protection if they acquire secondary meaning through long-term use.
  2. Use in Commerce: A trademark must be used in commerce to qualify for registration. This usually means the mark is displayed on goods or associated with services for which it is registered. Even if not in use, it’s advisable to file a trademark application under a 1b status. After the registration phase, a Notice of Allowance indicating its use must be submitted. However, you can file a trademark application before actual use.
  3. Non-Offensiveness: Offensive or scandalous trademarks might be denied registration. The USPTO generally doesn’t protect marks deemed against public policy or morality.
  4. Non-Deceptiveness: The mark shouldn’t mislead or deceive about the goods or services’ nature, quality, or origin.
  5. Registrability: Generic terms (common names for goods or services) cannot be registered since they lack distinctiveness. But descriptive marks can if they’ve gained secondary meaning through use.
  6. Application: File a trademark application with the pertinent trademark office in your jurisdiction, providing details about the mark, its use, and the goods or services it signifies.
  7. Registration and Renewal: If your application is approved, you must pay ongoing registration fees.
  8. Defensive Use: Trademark holders should proactively defend their marks against unauthorized use to uphold the trademark’s strength and validity.

For best results, consult with a trademark attorney or expert familiar with your jurisdiction’s laws when seeking and maintaining trademark protection.

Can I Use My Name or Domain as a Trademark?

Yes, you can use your name or domain as a trademark.  You can use your name, provided that it meets the necessary requirements for trademark registration. Using your name as a trademark is often referred to as a “personal name trademark.” However, there are some important considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Distinctiveness: Even personal names must be distinctive for the specific goods or services you provide. Common or generic names might need added elements to be unique and protectable.
  2. Secondary Meaning: If your name isn’t inherently distinctive, you might need to prove it has a “secondary meaning” in commerce.
  3. Full Name or Surname: Using your entire name or surname is generally allowed. But common surnames might need added distinctive elements to qualify as trademarks.
  4. Proper Documentation: You may need to present evidence showing your name’s use in commerce for the related goods or services.
  5. Clearance Searches: Conduct a trademark search before trying to register your name to prevent conflicts.
  6. Scope of Protection: Protection for a personal name trademark is often restricted to the particular goods or services registered.
  7. Ownership and Transfer: If you use your name as a trademark, think about ownership issues. If you sell your business, your name’s trademark rights might also transfer.

Trademark registration and the use of a personal name as a trademark can be complex. Consulting with a trademark attorney or professional who is experienced in trademark law can help you navigate the registration process and ensure that your personal name or domain is adequately protected as a trademark.

What is the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark?

Copyright and trademark are two distinct forms of intellectual property protection, each serving different purposes and applying to different types of assets. Here are the key differences between copyright and trademark:

  1. Nature of Protection:
    1. Copyright: Protects original works of authorship, like books, music, and art. This includes exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and create derivatives. Protection starts upon creation and lasts for the creator’s life plus 50 to 70 years.
    2. Trademark: Protects symbols, words, or designs identifying and distinguishing goods or services. Protection lasts indefinitely with proper use and maintenance.
  2. Subject Matter:
    1. Copyright: Covers original works, like literary pieces, music, and software.
    2. Trademark: Protects brand identifiers, like logos and names.
  3. Registration:
    1. Copyright: Automatically protects eligible works, but registering offers more legal advantages.
    2. Trademark: Requires USPTO registration for enforceable rights.
  4. Ownership:
    1. Copyright: Initially owned by the work’s creator, but can be transferred.
    2. Trademark: Owned by the entity using the mark in commerce.
  5. Duration of Protection:
    1. Copyright: Lasts the creator’s life plus 50-70 years.
    2. Trademark: Can be renewed indefinitely with proper use and maintenance.
  6. Infringement:
    1. Copyright: Involves unauthorized copying or reproduction.
    2. Trademark: Occurs with the use of a confusingly similar mark.

In summary, copyright protects creative and original works of authorship, while trademarks protect brand identities and source identifiers in the marketplace. These two forms of intellectual property are distinct but often overlap in businesses that use copyrighted materials within their branding and marketing efforts.

How Much Does a Trademark Cost?

The cost of obtaining and maintaining a trademark can vary significantly depending on various factors, including the jurisdiction, the complexity of the trademark application, the services you use, and whether you choose to hire legal assistance. Here’s a breakdown of some common costs associated with trademarks:

  1. Trademark Search: Before applying for a trademark, it’s advisable to conduct a trademark search to check for potential conflicts with existing trademarks. While there are free online search tools, it is advisable to hire a professional.
  2. Trademark Application Fee: The cost of filing a trademark application varies. In the United States, the filing fees are either $250 or $350 per class of goods or services.
  3. Attorney’s Fees: Many individuals and businesses choose to work with a trademark attorney to prepare and file their trademark application. Attorney fees vary widely but may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the application and the services provided.
  4. Office Actions and Amendments: If the trademark office issues an office action, requesting additional information or changes to your application, you may incur additional costs for responding to these requests.

It’s important to budget for both the initial costs of trademark registration and the ongoing expenses required to maintain and protect your trademark. The specific costs can vary based on your needs and the nature of your business. Contact us today to learn about our money-back trademark registration guarantee.

Where Do I Start? A Trademark Search!

Conducting a thorough trademark search is a crucial step before filing a trademark application to ensure that your desired trademark is available for registration and does not infringe on existing trademarks. Here are the steps to conduct a trademark search:

  1. Identify the Jurisdictions of Interest: Determine the countries or regions where you intend to use and register your trademark. Trademarks are territorial, so you should focus on the jurisdictions relevant to your business.
  2. Online Database Searches:
    1. USPTO (United States): In the United States, you can use the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) online database. The “TESS” (Trademark Electronic Search System) allows you to search for registered and pending trademarks. You can visit the USPTO website and use their search tool.
    2. WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization): For international trademarks under the Madrid Protocol, you can search the Global Brand Database provided by WIPO. This database includes trademarks from multiple countries.
    3. Local Trademark Offices: Many countries have their own online databases for searching trademarks. For example, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has a database for searching EU trademarks.
  3. Search Variations: When conducting the search, consider variations of your trademark, including plurals, different spellings, synonyms, and phonetic variations.
  4. Use Classifications: Trademarks are registered for specific classes of goods and services. Be sure to search for your trademark within the classes that are relevant to your business.
  5. Review the Results: Examine the search results for any trademarks that are identical or similar to yours and cover related goods or services. Pay attention to any live (currently registered) trademarks that could pose a conflict.
  6. Assess Conflicts: If you find similar or conflicting trademarks, evaluate whether they could potentially infringe on your use of the mark or if your use might infringe on their existing rights.

Remember that conducting a thorough trademark search is a critical step in the trademark registration process. While you can perform a basic search on your own, professional search services and trademark attorneys often have access to more extensive and specialized databases and can provide a more comprehensive analysis of the search results. If you’re serious about protecting your trademark, it’s advisable to consult with a trademark professional to ensure that your chosen mark is available for use and registration.

Are Trademarks Worth It?

Whether trademarks are worth it depends on your specific business and its goals. Trademarks offer several significant benefits, and their value can be substantial for many businesses. Some key benefits include:

  1. Brand Protection: Trademarks provide legal protection for your brand’s name, logo, and other distinctive elements. This protection helps prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark and diluting your brand’s identity.
  2. Exclusive Rights: Trademarks grant you exclusive rights to use your mark in connection with the goods or services for which it is registered. This exclusivity can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  3. Consumer Recognition: Trademarks help consumers identify and recognize your products or services. Over time, a strong trademark can become synonymous with quality, trust, and a positive reputation.
  4. Asset Value: Trademarks can be valuable assets for your business. They can be licensed to others, sold, or used as collateral for loans, contributing to the financial health of your company.
  5. Global Expansion: Registered trademarks can facilitate expansion into new markets, both domestically and internationally, by providing protection for your brand.
  6. Legal Recourse: Trademarks provide you with legal recourse to enforce your rights if others attempt to infringe upon your trademark. This may include the ability to seek damages, injunctive relief, or settlements.
  7. Preventing Genericide: Proper use and protection of your trademark can help prevent it from becoming a generic term, as seen with trademarks like “Kleenex” and “Aspirin.”

Whether a trademark is worth it for your business ultimately depends on your brand’s importance, your long-term plans, and your willingness to invest in brand protection. Many businesses find that trademarks are a valuable tool for building and protecting their brand, but it’s essential to make an informed decision based on your specific circumstances and goals. Consulting with a trademark attorney or professional can provide valuable guidance in this regard.

The RLG Guarantee on Trademarks

The RLG offers a money-back guarantee on all trademark applications. To be clear: should your trademark application not be allowed for any reason, we will provide a full refund. The RLG trademark package includes a comprehensive trademark search, preparation and filing of your trademark application with the USPTO, and payment of your USPTO filing fees. Schedule a free IP strategy call or take our intelligent IP quiz to see what protection is best for your invention.

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