Thursday, November 17, 2011

When is Abandoned Trademark Abandoned?

Dear Rich: I would like to use a trademark that was first used 2/2007 and has been deemed 'abandoned' since 8/2008. On your blog you note that the trademark is deemed abandoned if the owner does not use it for an extended period of time with the intent not to resume use. How can I find out if the owner intends to use it? What did the owner do/not do that caused the trademark to be deemed 'abandoned'? Thank you for your help! And thank you for triggering an ancient memory of watching "Seduced and Abandoned" in the local art theater with my dad. What a great movie -- even though it was a comedy, it was kind of scary, too.
Right, you had a question. There are three types of trademark abandonment:
  • an abandoned trademark -- this refers to the loss of trademark rights due to nonuse and it occurs when there is sufficient evidence that the owner intends to discontinue use of the mark. Under the Lanham Act, a mark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is presumed abandoned if it is not used for a continuous period of three years or more.
  • an abandoned trademark application -- this refers to an application that is ditched during the application process.  We're guessing that's what your question is referring to because it fits best with your timeline. If you're wondering why a trademark application has been abandoned, you can do the detective work and find the reasons by checking the TARR status of the mark, or if necessary by reading through the documents you can access for free via the USPTO's TDR (Trademark Document Retrieval). This is accomplished by clicking around and reading the PDFs associated with the applicant's file. By reviewing the documents in the application file you can learn whether the applicant just ran out of steam at the USPTO or whether the  USPTO examiner had a good argument as to why the mark shouldn't be registered. Keep in mind that if an application was abandoned because an examiner objected to registration that could be a strong indicator that you will run into problems with the same mark.
  • an abandoned trademark registration -- this refers to a trademark registration that is canceled, usually because the owner failed to follow certain formalities such as a renewal. Again, you can find the reasons by searching trademark records. The most common reason is that the owner didn't file a statement of continued use, resulting in cancellation. Often it's okay to step in and begin a similar use but you should always check the marketplace to confirm that the previous owner is not still claiming rights even without the registration.
As for determining whether a company abandoned its use of a trademark, you need to do old-fashioned research. Check retail stores, search online, or -- as we used to do back in the day -- call the company and asking whether you can still buy the product or acquire the service.