Trademark Law - An Open-Source Casebook (version 4.0)

Table of contents
Trademark Law - An Open-Source Casebook (version 4.0)
4th Edition
Barton Beebe
Table Of Contents

Trademark lawyers often tell the story in one form or another of the Coca-Cola lawyer who spoke in 1986 of the value of the company’s goodwill as symbolized by its brand: “The production plants and inventories of The Coca-Cola Company could go up in flames overnight. Yet, on the following morning there is not a bank in Atlanta, New York, or anywhere else, that would not lend this Company the funds necessary for rebuilding, accepting as security only the inherent good will in its trademarks ‘Coca-Cola’ and ‘Coke.”’  The story was and remains no exaggeration. In 2016, Interbrand estimated the value of the Coca-Cola brand to be $73.1 billion—as against fixed assets in 2016 of approximately $10.6 billion.

apple, google, coke, microsoft, samsung, toyota, mcdonalds, louis vuitton, nike, pepsi, facebook, visa, citi, starbucks, mastercard.  Instantly recognizable by a very large proportion of humanity, these are among the most valuable and influential signs in the world, rivalling in significance many religious and national symbols.  They are only the most notorious of the millions of brand names that populate the modern marketplace.  Trademark law regulates these brand names, from the multi-billion dollar global brands to the name of the local shop down the street.  Without trademark protection, many would cease to exist.

In this introductory chapter, we first review the early history of trademarks and trademark law, including the first great Supreme Court trademark case, the so-called Trade-Mark Cases.  We then critically consider the varied policy justifications for trademark protection.  We conclude by briefly situating trademark law within the larger scheme of intellectual property law.

Introduction.1. The History of U.S. Trademark Law
Introduction.1.1. The Origins of Trademarks and Trademark Law

In the excerpt that follows, Mark McKenna surveys the origins of American trademark law from seventeenth-century English case law up through nineteenth-century American case law.  Some of the cases he mentions may seem far removed in their facts and reasoning from the present-day world of the global internet and multi-billion dollar brands.  But as you will see, the early history of trademark law implicates questions that continue to concern courts and trademark law policymakers.  What is the proper rationale for trademark protection?  Are trademark rights simply a form of pernicious monopoly rights?  Is trademark law intellectual property law or is it unfair competition law? What should qualify for trademark protection? What role should intent or “bad faith” play in the determination of liability for trademark infringement?  Should consumers have standing to sue when they are confused by one company’s use of a mark similar to another company’s mark? 

Mark P. McKenna, The Normative Foundations of Trademark Law, 82 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1839, 1849-62 (2007) (some footnotes altered or omitted)


[1] Use of markings to identify and distinguish one's property dates to antiquity, and regulations regarding use of those marks almost as long….  Because nineteenth-century American courts explicitly drew on English law…, a full account necessarily begins in England.

A. Medieval Marks as Liabilities

[2] Scholars have identified a number of ways in which individuals and producers historically used distinguishing marks. Most basically, merchants used marks to demonstrate ownership of physical goods, much in the way that ranchers use cattle brands to identify their cattle. Use of marks to indicate ownership of goods was particularly important for owners whose goods moved in transit, as those marks often allowed owners to claim goods that were lost. Producers relied on identifying marks, for example, to demonstrate ownership of goods recovered at sea.

[3] Marks also were quite important to the operation of the guild system in medieval England. Local guilds often developed reputations for the quality of their products. When they did, the names of the towns or regions in which those guilds operated became repositories of goodwill. To maintain that goodwill, guilds needed to be able to restrict membership and identify and punish members who produced defective products. Guilds therefore required their members to affix distinguishing marks to their products so they could police their ranks effectively.

[4] Importantly, guilds required members to display their marks for the purpose of developing and maintaining the collective goodwill of the guild; marks were not used for the purpose of establishing individual producer goodwill. Indeed, intraguild competition was strictly forbidden. Moreover, guild regulations were not motivated primarily by a concern for consumers. Even in the cutlers' trade, where marks seem to have been viewed most analogously to modern trademarks, regulation was intended not for the protection of purchasers, but for “guidance of those exercising control or working in rivalry.” In fact, though it is not clear how often mark owners sought enforcement of their marks during this period, whatever enforcement mark owners did pursue seems to have been motivated by their concern about being held responsible for products they did not make.

B. English Trademark Cases

[5] Commentators often cite the 1618 case of Southern v. How as the first English case dealing with replication of another’s identifying mark. According to Popham’s report of that case,

an action upon the case was brought in the Common Pleas by a clothier, that whereas he had gained great reputation for his making of his cloth, by reason whereof he had great utterance to his great benefit and profit, and that he used to set his mark to his cloth, whereby it should be known to be his cloth: and another clothier perceiving it, used the same mark to his ill-made cloth on purpose to deceive him, and it was resolved that the action did well lie.

[6] There are, however, good reasons to doubt the reliability of Popham’s report, as Frank Schechter ably demonstrated in his seminal work The Historical Foundations of the Law Relating to Trade-Marks. Popham’s is only one of five known reports of the case, and the other reports do not corroborate Popham’s account of the clothier’s case. Some of the reports contain no reference at all to the clothier’s case, and at least one of the reports suggests that it was the deceived customer who brought the action rather than the merchant. Nevertheless, much to the detriment of trademark law’s conceptual development, Popham’s characterization of Southern played a prominent role in early English law. In fact, several English judges deciding trademark cases in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries relied on Popham’s report of the case for the proposition that cases based on use of another’s mark could be brought as actions on the case, sounding in deceit.

1. Trademarks in Courts of Law and Equity

[7] The first reported English decision clearly involving a claim based on use of a party’s trademark was the court of equity’s 1742 decision in Blanchard v. Hill. The plaintiff in that case, a maker of playing cards, sought an injunction

to restrain the defendant from making use of the Great Mogul as a stamp upon his cards, to the prejudice of the plaintiff, upon a suggestion, that the plaintiff had the sole right to this stamp, having appropriated it to himself, conformable to the charter granted to the cardmakers’ company by King Charles the First.

[8] The factual context of Blanchard is particularly noteworthy; the plaintiff was seeking protection of a mark for playing cards pursuant to a royal charter, and charters granting exclusive rights to cardmakers had been at the center of a long political struggle between Parliament and the Crown. Marks played an important role in the contested charter scheme because cardmakers were required to use their seals so that exclusivity could be enforced, a fact that clearly colored the court’s view of the case….

[9] The Blanchard decision, however, should not be read as a categorical condemnation of claims based on use of a competitor’s mark. Rather, Lord Hardwicke was focused on cases in which the plaintiff’s claim of exclusive rights emanated from a monopoly granted by royal charter. In fact, his decision in Blanchard specifically distinguished the plaintiff’s claim in that case from the clothier’s claim referenced in Popham’s report of Southern. Unlike the plaintiff in Blanchard, who claimed the exclusive right to use his Mogul mark without qualification, the clothier in Southern based his case on the defendant’s “fraudulent design, to put off bad cloths by this means, or to draw away customers from the other clothier.” When the defendant intended to pass off its goods as those of the plaintiff, Lord Hardwicke implied, an injunction might well be appropriate.

[10] Despite the initial reluctance of courts of equity to recognize exclusive rights in trademarks and Lord Hardwicke’s clear suggestion that claimants pursue such claims at law, the first reported trademark decision by an English common law court was the 1824 decision in Sykes v. Sykes. In that case, the court upheld a verdict for the plaintiff against defendants who marked their shot-belts and powder-flasks with the words “Sykes Patent” in imitation of the plaintiff’s use of the same mark for its shot-belts and powder-flasks. After specifically noting that the plaintiff’s sales had decreased after the defendants began selling their identically labeled products, the court concluded that the defendants had violated the plaintiff’s rights by marking their goods so as “to denote that they were of the genuine manufacture of the plaintiff” and “[selling] them to retail dealers, for the express purpose of being resold, as goods of the plaintiff’s manufacture.”

[11] A number of common law cases following the Sykes decision recognized claims in similar circumstances, imposing liability when a producer sought to pass off its goods as those of a competitor. Those cases generally were brought as actions on the case, in the nature of deceit. Yet one must be careful not to read those cases through modern lenses—despite the form of action, courts in these early cases invariably described the defendant as having practiced fraud against the plaintiff.

[12] Like their counterparts in courts of law, courts of equity became more solicitous of trademark claims in the first part of the nineteenth century. Of particular significance, courts very early on concluded that, where a claimant could demonstrate an exclusive right to use a particular mark, equity would intervene to protect a property interest and evidence of fraudulent intent was not necessary….

[13] As Lord Westbury said in Leather Cloth Co. v. American Leather Cloth Co. rejecting any contention that courts of equity based their jurisdiction on fraud,

The true principle, therefore, would seem to be, that the jurisdiction of the Court in the protection given to trade marks rests upon property, and that the Court interferes by injunction, because that is the only mode by which property of this description can be effectually protected.

Significantly, Lord Westbury reached this conclusion after noting that, even when a party held out his goods as those of another, the other had no right to complain unless the act caused him some pecuniary loss or damage. “Imposition on the public, occasioned by one man selling his goods as the goods of another, cannot be the ground of private right of action or suit.” The court in Levy v. Walker was even more explicit that the protection of trademarks was intended to protect producers and not primarily for the benefit of consumers: “The Court interferes solely for the purpose of protecting the owner of a trade or business from a fraudulent invasion of that business by somebody else. It does not interfere to prevent the world outside from being misled into anything.”


C. Early American Trademark Jurisprudence

1. Trademark Law Targets Dishonest Trade Diversion

[14] As noted above, I read the decisions of the English common law courts and courts of equity as reflecting the same fundamental concern. In both types of cases, courts were singularly focused on the harm to a producer from improper diversion of its trade, and they worked with existing forms of action to remedy that harm. American courts had the same focus when they began deciding trademark cases, and they repeatedly made clear that the purpose of trademark law was to protect a party from illegitimate attempts to divert its trade.

[15] In Coats v. Holbrook, for example, the court said that a person is not allowed to imitate the product of another and “thereby attract to himself the patronage that without such deceptive use of such names ... would have inured to the benefit of that other person.”

[16] […] Moreover, ... American courts concluded very early on that this protection in many cases was based on a property right, following essentially the approach of English courts of equity.


2. Trademarks and Unfair Competition

[17] Because the purpose of trademark protection traditionally was to prevent trade diversion by competitors, it has long been regarded as a species of the broader law of unfair competition, and even more broadly, as part of the law governing other fraudulent (and unfair) business practices. This view of trademark protection as a species of unfair competition was not, as some have suggested, a post hoc conflation of two branches of the law. From the very beginning, trademark cases and those only “analogous” to trademark cases were grounded in the same fundamental principle—that no person has the right to pass off his goods as those of another….

[18] At some point in the late nineteenth century, American courts began to use the term “unfair competition” slightly differently. Those courts divided the universe of distinguishing marks into “technical trademarks,” which were protected in actions for trademark infringement, and “trade names,” which could only be protected in actions for unfair competition. Arbitrary or fanciful terms applied to particular products were considered technical trademarks, while surnames, geographic terms, descriptive terms were considered trade names. …. 

[19] In practice, cases of trademark infringement and those of unfair competition differed primarily in terms of what the plaintiff had to prove. Use of another’s technical trademark was unlikely to have a legitimate explanation and could be condemned categorically. Trademark infringement plaintiffs therefore did not have to prove intent. Use of another’s trade name, on the other hand, may have had an innocent purpose, such as description of the product’s characteristics or its geographic origin. As a result, in contrast to trademark infringement plaintiffs, unfair competition claimants had to prove that the defendant intended to pass off its products as those of the plaintiff.


Comments and Questions

1.   “Technical trademarks”, “trade names”, and intent. In addressing the role of intent in late nineteenth century American unfair competition law, McKenna cites The Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition.  The Restatement explains:

In both England and the United States [in the late nineteenth century], the property conception of trademark rights extended only to certain designations. When the defendant imitated a designation that was clearly distinctive of the plaintiff’s goods, the natural inference that the defendant intended to deceive prospective purchasers eventually led to a conclusive presumption of fraud. Thus, in the case of words or other symbols invented by the plaintiff or arbitrary designations that had no apparent relation to the plaintiff’s goods except as an indication of source, the courts began to protect the plaintiff’s “property” interest in the mark without regard to the presence of any fraudulent intent. Such marks were characterized as “trademarks,” and cases involving the unauthorized use of these marks were designated as actions for “trademark infringement.” The focus of the inquiry thus shifted from an analysis of the defendant’s conduct to a consideration of the nature of the plaintiff’s right. Less distinctive marks that had nevertheless come to be recognized by prospective consumers as indications of source were called “trade names.” Although not recognized as “property” in the same sense as technical “trademarks,” protection for “trade names” remained available through the action for “unfair competition,” with its historical emphasis on the fraudulent character of the defendant’s conduct.

[] The initial emphasis on fraud and property rights has generally given way to a more explicit analysis of the propriety of the defendant’s conduct as a means of competition, and the technical distinctions between the actions for trademark infringement and unfair competition have now been abandoned.

Restatement (Third) Of Unfair Competition § 9, cmt. d (1995).

2.   Production marks.  As the McKenna excerpt explains, local guilds required production marks not just to aid in asserting their monopoly but also to fix liability for poorly-made goods that might tarnish the reputation of the guild.  An early example of quality enforcement—and of trademark adjudication—comes to us in the remarkable story of the fourteenth-century bladesmith John Odinsay.  Odinsay was accused of making a sword that broke during combat when one Sir Peter Harpdon used it to defend himself from highway brigands (led by Geoffrey Tete Noir) while travelling through Bordeaux in 1345. Sir Peter recovered from his wounds in that skirmish and went on to fight next to the Black Prince in the Battle of Crecy in 1346. But upon his return to London, he pursued the matter of the broken sword. The hallmark suggested that Odinsay had made it (and the penalties for such faulty craftsmanship would have ruined Odinsay and his family), but the mark turned out to be a forgery.  The London bladesmiths’ guild discovered that several of its members’ marks were being forged, perhaps by smiths in nearby cities.  See Thomas D. Drescher, The Transformation and Evolution of Trademarks—From Signals to Symbols to Myth, 82 Trademark Reporter 301, 313-18 (1992).


Introduction.1.2. The Trade-Mark Cases

The Supreme Court’s 1879 opinion in the Trade-Mark Cases is the first great Supreme Court opinion on trademarks (often written at the time as “trade-marks” or “trade marks”, which latter usage British English still prefers to this day).  It arose out of three criminal cases in which the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the federal trademark law in effect at the time.


Trade-Mark Cases

100 U.S. 82 (1879)


MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

[1] The three cases whose titles stand at the head of this opinion are criminal prosecutions for violations of what is known as the trade-mark legislation of Congress. The first two are indictments in the southern district of New York, and the last is an information in the southern district of Ohio. In all of them the judges of the circuit courts in which they are pending have certified to a difference of opinion on what is substantially the same question; namely, are the acts of Congress on the subject of trade-marks founded on any rightful authority in the Constitution of the United States?

[2] The entire legislation of Congress in regard to trade-marks is of very recent origin. It is first seen in sects. 77 to 84, inclusive, of the act of July 8, 1870, entitled ‘An Act to revise, consolidate, and amend the statutes relating to patents and copyrights.’ 16 Stat. 198. The part of this act relating to trade-marks is embodied in chap. 2, tit. 60, sects. 4937 to 4947, of the Revised Statutes.

[3] It is sufficient at present to say that they provide for the registration in the Patent Office of any device in the nature of a trade-mark to which any person has by usage established an exclusive right, or which the person so registering intends to appropriate by that act to his exclusive use; and they make the wrongful use of a trade-mark, so registered, by any other person, without the owner’s permission, a cause of action in a civil suit for damages. Six years later we have the act of Aug. 14, 1876 (19 Stat. 141), punishing by fine and imprisonment the fraudulent use, sale, and counterfeiting of trade-marks registered in pursuance of the statutes of the United States, on which the informations and indictments are founded in the cases before us.

[4] The right to adopt and use a symbol or a device to distinguish the goods or property made or sold by the person whose mark it is, to the exclusion of use by all other persons, has been long recognized by the common law and the chancery courts of England and of this country, and by the statutes of some of the States. It is a property right for the violation of which damages may be recovered in an action at law, and the continued violation of it will be enjoined by a court of equity, with compensation for past infringement. This exclusive right was not created by the act of Congress, and does not now depend upon it for its enforcement. The whole system of trade-mark property and the civil remedies for its protection existed long anterior to that act, and have remained in full force since its passage.

[5] There propositions are so well understood as to require neither the citation of authorities nor an elaborate argument to prove them.

[6] As the property in trade-marks and the right to their exclusive use rest on the laws of the States, and, like the great body of the rights of person and of property, depend on them for security and protection, the power of Congress to legislate on the subject, to establish the conditions on which these rights shall be enjoyed and exercised, the period of their duration, and the legal remedies for their enforcement, if such power exist at all, must be found in the Constitution of the United States, which is the source of all powers that Congress can lawfully exercise.

[7] In the argument of these cases this seems to be conceded, and the advocates for the validity of the acts of Congress on this subject point to two clauses of the Constitution, in one or in both of which, as they assert, sufficient warrant may be found for this legislation.

[8] The first of these is the eighth clause of sect. 8 of the first article. That section, manifestly intended to be an enumeration of the powers expressly granted to Congress, and closing with the declaration of a rule for the ascertainment of such powers as are necessary by way of implication to carry into efficient operation those expressly given, authorizes Congress, by the clause referred to, ‘to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times, to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.’

[9] As the first and only attempt by Congress to regulate the right of trade-marks is to be found in the act of July 8, 1870, to which we have referred, entitled ‘An Act to revise, consolidate, and amend the statutes relating to patents and copyrights,’ terms which have long since become technical, as referring, the one to inventions and the other to the writings of authors, it is a reasonable inference that this part of the statute also was, in the opinion of Congress, an exercise of the power found in that clause of the Constitution. It may also be safely assumed that until a critical examination of the subject in the courts became necessary, it was mainly if not wholly to this clause that the advocates of the law looked for its support.

[10] Any attempt, however, to identify the essential characteristics of a trade-mark with inventions and discoveries in the arts and sciences, or with the writings of authors, will show that the effort is surrounded with insurmountable difficulties.

[11] The ordinary trade-mark has no necessary relation to invention or discovery. The trade-mark recognized by the common law is generally the growth of a considerable period of use, rather than a sudden invention. It is often the result of accident rather than design, and when under the act of Congress it is sought to establish it by registration, neither originality, invention, discovery, science, nor art is in any way essential to the right conferred by that act. If we should endeavor to classify it under the head of writings of authors, the objections are equally strong. In this, as in regard to inventions, originality is required. And while the word writings may be liberally construed, as it has been, to include original designs for engravings, prints, &c., it is only such as are original, and are founded in the creative powers of the mind. The writings which are to be protected are the fruits of intellectual labor, embodied in the form of books, prints, engravings, and the like. The trade-mark may be, and generally is, the adoption of something already in existence as the distinctive symbol of the party using it. At common law the exclusive right to it grows out of its use, and not its mere adoption. By the act of Congress this exclusive right attaches upon registration. But in neither case does it depend upon novelty, invention, discovery, or any work of the brain. It requires no fancy or imagination, no genius, no laborious thought. It is simply founded on priority of appropriation. We look in vain in the statute for any other qualification or condition. If the symbol, however plain, simple, old, or well-known, has been first appropriated by the claimant as his distinctive trade-mark, he may by registration secure the right to its exclusive use. While such legislation may be a judicious aid to the common law on the subject of trade-marks, and may be within the competency of legislatures whose general powers embrace that class of subjects, we are unable to see any such power in the constitutional provision concerning authors and inventors, and their writings and discoveries.

[12] The other clause of the Constitution supposed to confer the requisite authority on Congress is the third of the same section, which, read in connection with the granting clause, is as follows: ‘The Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.’

[13] If [a law’s] main purpose be to establish a regulation applicable to all trade, to commerce at all points, especially if it be apparent that it is designed to govern the commerce wholly between citizens of the same State, it is obviously the exercise of a power not confided to Congress.

[14] We find no recognition of this principle in the chapter on trade-marks in the Revised Statutes. We would naturally look for this in the description of the class of persons who are entitled to register a trade-mark, or in reference to the goods to which it should be applied.…   But no such idea is found or suggested in this statute. Its language is: ‘Any person or firm domiciled in the United States, and any corporation created by the United States, or of any State or Territory thereof,’ or any person residing in a foreign country which by treaty or convention affords similar privileges to our citizens, may be registration obtain protection for his trade-mark. Here is no requirement that such person shall be engaged in the kind of commerce which Congress is authorized to regulate. It is a general declaration that anybody in the United States, and anybody in any other country which permits us to do the like, may, by registering a trade-mark, have it fully protected…. The remedies provided by the act when the right of the owner of the registered trade-mark is infringed, are not confined to the case of a trade-mark used in foreign or inter-state commerce.

[15] It is therefore manifest that no such distinction is found in the act, but that its broad purpose was to establish a universal system of trade-mark registration, for the benefit of all who had already used a trade-mark, or who wished to adopt one in the future, without regard to the character of the trade to which it was to be applied or the residence of the owner, with the solitary exception that those who resided in foreign countries which extended no such privileges to us were excluded from them here.


[16] While we have, in our references in this opinion to the trade-mark legislation of Congress, had mainly in view the act of 1870, and the civil remedy which that act provides, it was because the criminal offences described in the act of 1876 are, by their express terms, solely referable to frauds, counterfeits, and unlawful use of trade-marks which were registered under the provisions of the former act. If that act is unconstitutional, so that the registration under it confers no lawful right, then the criminal enactment intended to protect that right falls with it.

[17] The questions in each of these cases being an inquiry whether these statutes can be upheld in whole or in part as valid and constitutional, must be answered in the negative; and it will be

So certified to the proper circuit courts.

Introduction.1.3. The Statutory Development of U.S. Trademark law and the Lanham Act of 1946


Rep. Fritz Lanham, 1880-1965

(D-Texas, 1919-1947)

Excerpt from Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition § 9 (1995)

[1] e. Trademark legislation. The federal government and each of the states have enacted legislation protecting trademarks. The statutes generally provide a mechanism for the registration of trademarks, describe the types of marks that may be registered, and specify the procedural and substantive advantages afforded to the owner of a trademark registration. The statutes, however, do not ordinarily preempt the protection of trademarks at common law.

[2] Although several states had earlier enacted legislation to prevent the fraudulent use of trademarks, the first federal trademark statute was not enacted until 1870. This initial attempt at federal protection proved short-lived, however, when in 1879 the Supreme Court in the Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. (10 Otto) 82 (1879), held that the statute had been unconstitutionally grounded on the patent and copyright clause of the Constitution. A second federal statute was enacted in 1881, but in reaction to the Trade-Mark Cases, registration under the act was limited to marks used in commerce with foreign nations and the Indian tribes. The first modern federal trademark registration statute was the Trademark Act of 1905, grounded on the commerce clause. In a continuation of the distinction that had developed at common law between technical “trademarks” and “trade names,” the Act of 1905 limited registration to fanciful and arbitrary marks, except for marks that had been in actual use for 10 years preceding passage of the statute.

[3] To clarify and strengthen the rights of trademark owners, the Act of 1905 was replaced by the Trademark Act of 1946 (effective July 5, 1947), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1051-1127, commonly known as the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act is generally declarative of existing law, incorporating the principal features of common law trademark protection. However, among the major innovations of the Lanham Act were the adoption of a constructive notice rule that effectively expanded the geographic scope of trademark rights, and an attempt to provide a measure of security to trademark owners in the form of “incontestable” rights in certain trademarks. The Lanham Act in § 43(a) also added a general proscription against false designations and representations that has come to serve as a federal law of deceptive marketing.

[4] Statutes in every state also provide for the registration of trademarks. In 1949 the United States (now International) Trademark Association prepared a Model State Trademark Bill patterned after the federal registration system. The Model Bill, revised in 1964 and 1992, provides the basis for much of the current state legislation.


From Edward S. Rogers, The Lanham Act and the Social Function of Trademarks, 14 Law & Contemp. Probs. 173, 180-83 (1949)


[1] The prospect of getting anything through Congress in 1937 was not encouraging. Our committee[, the Trade Mark Committee of the Patent Section of the American Bar Association,] kept notes and I had a scrapbook in which I stuck ideas that came in from all sorts of places. More as a matter of convenience than anything else, I cast those notes and ideas in the form of a draft statute.

[2] In the winter of 1937 the Commissioner of Patents asked me to come to Washington to see him. He said he had had a conference with Fritz Lanham, who was chairman of the subcommittee of the House Patent Committee dealing with trademarks, and asked me to see Mr. Lanham, which I did. Mr. Lanham said that a large number of piecemeal amendments to the 1905 Act had been proposed and that he had been studying the Act and couldn’t make head or tail of it; that if it were amended piecemeal it would make incomprehensible what had hitherto been merely obscure. So he asked if anywhere around there was a skeleton draft of a new act that could be used as a sort of clotheshorse to hang things on. I told him I had such a draft and he asked me to leave it with him, which I, of course, was glad to do.

[3] I supposed that Mr. Lanham was just going to study this memorandum and skeleton—it was hardly more than that—and begin to hold hearings. I was surprised when, on January 19, 1938, he introduced it as H.R. 9041.

[4] Immediately bar associations appointed committees which did thoughtful and conscientious work, with the result that we now have a new Trade-Mark Act. Since the last Act was passed in 1905 and the new Act in 1946—forty-one years later—I suspect we are going to have to live with the Lanham Act for a long time.


[5] Whenever there was a hearing before any committee on the trade-mark bill, sooner or later there appeared zealous men from the Department of Justice who raised all manner of objections. They asserted that trade-marks are monopolistic and any statutory protection of them plays into the hands of big business and should be discouraged. In vain it was pointed out that what is now big business started as little business—that trade-marks are not, like patents and copyrights, a government grant of an exclusive right, that trade-marks are visible reputation and symbols of good will, that trade-marks are the antithesis of monopoly, and that to protect them is to insure the one whose goods or services they distinguish against fraud and misrepresentation.

[6] No progress seemed to be made with the Department's representatives, who were against not only the protection of trade-marks but trade-marks as an institution….


Comments and Questions

1.   The Long Road to the Lanham Act.  In his influential treatise, J. Thomas McCarthy records the fate of legislative efforts through the war years leading to the Lanham Act of 1946:

Hearings on the bill and the various forms in which it was reintroduced were held in March 1938, March 1939, June 1939, and passed the House and Senate in 1939 and 1940. However, the Senate moved to reconsider the bill on June 23, 1940 and it was returned to the calendar and died. In the 77th Congress a reintroduced bill passed the Senate in 1941 and the House in 1942, but the bill died upon being referred back to Committee in 1942. Hearings were held in the 78th Congress in 1943 and 1944, but the bill was not passed. Finally, the 1945 version of the bill (H.R. 1654) was passed by the 79th Congress.

McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition § 5.4 (2015).  If we date the Lanham Act from its first draft in 1937 (or indeed back to the so-called Vestal Bill of 1931), then the Act is nearly 80 years old.  This may help to explain the existence of certain especially abstruse statutory sections that the student will confront through the course of studying U.S. trademark law.

Introduction.1.4. Recent Statutory Developments

The Lanham Act has been amended numerous times since its July 5, 1947 effective date.  Listed here are some of the more important amendments, many of which we will refer to through the course of this casebook.


The limiting phrase “purchasers as to the source of origin of such goods or services” was deleted from Lanham Act § 32.  1962 Pub. L. No. 87-772, 76 Stat. 769. This arguably significantly broadened the scope of anti-infringement protection under the Act.


The following sentence was added to Lanham Act § 35: “The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.”  1975 Pub. L. No. 93-600, 88 Stat. 1955.


Congress finally changed the name of the “Patent Office” to the “Patent and Trademark Office.” 1975 Pub. L. No. 93-596, 88 Stat. 1949.


The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals became the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Pub. L. 97-164, 96 Stat. 25.


The Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1984 was enacted, 1984 Pub. L. No. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1837, amending Lanham §§ 34, 35, and 36, and establishing criminal trademark anti-counterfeiting penalties in 18 U.S.C. § 2320.


The Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988 (TLRA) was enacted, effective November 16, 1989.  Pub. L. No. 100-667, 102 Stat. 3935.  The TLRA established the “intent-to-use” basis for registration and federal statutory “constructive use” for purposes of priority.  It also significantly rewrote Lanham Act § 43(a).


The Federal Trademark Dilution Act (FTDA), enacted and effective January 16, 1996, established a federal cause of action for anti-dilution protection in Lanham Act § 43(c).  Pub. L. No. 104-98, 109 Stat. 985. The FTDA has been replaced by the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006.


The Anticounterfeiting Consumer Protection Act of 1996 further enhanced procedures to combat and penalties for trademark counterfeiting. Pub. L. No. 104-153, 110 Stat 1386. The Act also introduced statutory damages for counterfeiting


The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) established Lanham Act § 43(d) to combat the cybersquatting of domain names confusingly similar to or dilutive of trademarks. Pub. L. No. 106-113, 113 Stat. 1501.


The Madrid Protocol Implementation Act (MPIA), enacted Nov. 2, 2002 and effective Nov. 2, 2003, established Lanham Act §§ 60-74. 116 Stat. 1758, 1913 Pub. L. No. 107-273.  With the MPIA, the U.S. became a member of the Madrid System of international trademark registration.


The Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006 (TDRA) significantly rewrote Lanham Act § 43(c). Pub. L. No. 109-312, 120 Stat. 1730.  It replaced the FTDA of 1996.


The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (PRO-IP Act) enhanced civil damages and criminal penalties for trademark counterfeiting. Pub. L. No. 110-313, 122 Stat. 3014


Comments and Questions

1.   “The Last Best Place.”  One of the stranger moments in the history of U.S. trademark legislation involves the phrase “The Last Best Place.”  Between 2001 and 2004, a Nevada business named Last Best Beef, LLC filed eight applications at the PTO to register the phrase “The Last Best Place” in connection with various goods and services.  In 2005, Congress passed and the President signed into law an appropriations bill with a rider that consisted of the following language: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no funds appropriated under this Act shall be used to register, issue, transfer, or enforce any trademark of the phrase ‘The Last Best Place.’”  Upon learning of this statutory command in an appropriations bill that covered the PTO, the PTO suspended all consideration of Last Best Beef’s trademark applications and no further applications for the phrase have since been filed.  What?  In 1988, a Montana writer had entitled an anthology of Montana-oriented poetry and prose “The Last Best Place.” The phrase was soon taken up by Montana businesses and state government. In 2005, Montana Senator Conrad Burns attached the rider to the appropriations bill on the ground that the phrase “belongs to the State of Montana.”  See John L. Welch, Montana Senator Again Blocks “LAST BEST PLACE” Registrations, The TTABlog, Feb. 27, 2009, http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2009/02/montana-senator-max-baucus-announced.html.  See also The Last Best Beef, LLC v. Dudas, 506 F.3d 333 (4th Cir. 2007) (not seeing a problem with any of this).


Introduction.2. The Policy Justifications for Trademark Protection

Probably the most oft-quoted passage from the Trade-Mark Cases is the paragraph in which the Supreme Court compared trademarks to the two other most significant forms of intellectual property, copyrights and patents (paragraph 11 in the excerpt above).  Consider whether what Justice Miller wrote in 1879 about the development of brand names is still accurate today:

The ordinary trade-mark has no necessary relation to invention or discovery. The trade-mark recognized by the common law is generally the growth of a considerable period of use, rather than a sudden invention. It is often the result of accident rather than design, and when under the act of Congress it is sought to establish it by registration, neither originality, invention, discovery, science, nor art is in any way essential to the right conferred by that act. If we should endeavor to classify it under the head of writings of authors, the objections are equally strong. In this, as in regard to inventions, originality is required. And while the word writings may be liberally construed, as it has been, to include original designs for engravings, prints, &c., it is only such as are original, and are founded in the creative powers of the mind. The writings which are to be protected are the fruits of intellectual labor, embodied in the form of books, prints, engravings, and the like. The trade-mark may be, and generally is, the adoption of something already in existence as the distinctive symbol of the party using it. At common law the exclusive right to it grows out of its use, and not its mere adoption. By the act of Congress this exclusive right attaches upon registration. But in neither case does it depend upon novelty, invention, discovery, or any work of the brain. It requires no fancy of imagination, no genius, no laborious thought. It is simply founded on priority of appropriation.

Id. at 94.

By 1942, the Court was describing trademarks and the role of trademark law in different terms. In Mishawaka Rubber & Woolen Mfg. Co. v. S.S. Kresge Co., 316 U.S. 203 (1942), Justice Frankfurter explained:

The protection of trade-marks is the law's recognition of the psychological function of symbols. If it is true that we live by symbols, it is no less true that we purchase goods by them. A trade-mark is a merchandising short-cut which induces a purchaser to select what he wants, or what he has been led to believe he wants. The owner of a mark exploits this human propensity by making every effort to impregnate the atmosphere of the market with the drawing power of a congenial symbol. Whatever the means employed, the aim is the same—to convey through the mark, in the minds of potential customers, the desirability of the commodity upon which it appears. Once this is attained, the trade-mark owner has something of value. If another poaches upon the commercial magnetism of the symbol he has created, the owner can obtain legal redress.

Id. at 205.

By the 1980s, American courts were describing trademarks and trademark law in yet different terms, terms which still resonate today. Reflecting the rise of the Chicago School economic analysis of law, Judge Easterbrook described the economic benefits of trademarks and trademark protection in Scandia Down Corp. v. Euroquilt, Inc., 772 F.2d. 1423 (7th Cir. 1985):

Trademarks help consumers to select goods. By identifying the source of the goods, they convey valuable information to consumers at lower costs. Easily identified trademarks reduce the costs consumers incur in searching for what they desire, and the lower the costs of search the more competitive the market. A trademark also may induce the supplier of goods to make higher quality products and to adhere to a consistent level of quality. The trademark is a valuable asset, part of the “goodwill” of a business. If the seller provides an inconsistent level of quality, or reduces quality below what consumers expect from earlier experience, that reduces the value of the trademark. The value of a trademark is in a sense a “hostage” of consumers; if the seller disappoints the consumers, they respond by devaluing the trademark. The existence of this hostage gives the seller another incentive to afford consumers the quality of goods they prefer and expect.

Id. at 1429-30.

Which description of trademarks most accurately reflects their characteristics in the present day? Are they often adopted, in the terms of the Trade-Mark Cases, as “the result of accident rather than design”? Can we say of the development of trademarks, as of the legal conditions leading to their protection, that “no fancy of imagination, no genius, no laborious thought” is required? Or is it rather that, through the development of a brand name, “[t]he owner of a mark...mak[es] every effort to impregnate the atmosphere of the market with the drawing power of a congenial symbol”? Is the consumer in some sense a victim of these machinations of the trademark owner, who through the “commercial magnetism” of the trademark “induces the purchaser to select what he wants, or what he has been led to believe he wants”? Or is it finally not consumers who are victims of the trademark, but the trademark who is a “hostage” of consumers, whom it serves by enabling them to find what they desire and to insist on “the quality of goods they prefer and expect”?

The Economic Justification for Trademark Protection

These differing accounts of the trademark and trademark law are probably all more or less true, depending on the trademark, product, and consumer at issue. But it is well-accepted that the last account, based on the economic analysis of law, is currently by far the dominant account of trademark law. In Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc., 514 U.S. 159 (U.S. 1995), Justice Breyer cited, among other sources, William Landes & Richard Posner, The Economics of Trademark Law, 78 Trademark Rep. 267, 271-272 (1988), in support of the following statement of the purposes of trademark law:

[T]rademark law, by preventing others from copying a source-identifying mark, reduces the customer's costs of shopping and making purchasing decisions, for it quickly and easily assures a potential customer that this item—the item with this mark—is made by the same producer as other similarly marked items that he or she liked (or disliked) in the past. At the same time, the law helps assure a producer that it (and not an imitating competitor) will reap the financial, reputation-related rewards associated with a desirable product. The law thereby encourages the production of quality products, and simultaneously discourages those who hope to sell inferior products by capitalizing on a consumer's inability quickly to evaluate the quality of an item offered for sale.

Id. at 163-64 (citations omitted).

The current orthodox view of trademarks, then, is that they (1) minimize consumer search costs, and (2) provide incentives to producers to produce consistent levels of product quality. This latter benefit of trademarks is especially important for certain types of products. In general, products may be understood to possess three types of characteristics: “search” characteristics, such as color or price, which can be inspected prior to purchase; “experience” characteristics, such as taste, which can only be verified through use of the product; and “credence” characteristics, such as durability, which can only be confirmed over time. See Phillip Nelson, Advertising as Information, 82 J. Pol. Econ. 729 (1974). For products such as medicine, automobiles or high-technology goods, the readily-apparent “search” characteristics of which say little about the quality of the product, consumers may rely heavily on the trademark attached to the product in making their purchasing decision. It follows that in a market without reliable source-identification for such products, producers would have little incentive to invest in the production of products of high quality. This is because they would likely be undercut by competitors who would offer cheaper products of lower quality. See George A. Ackerlof, The Market for "Lemons": Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism, 84 Q.J. of Econ. 488 (1970).

As indications of quality, trademarks signify and allow firms to develop commercial goodwill, which for many firms may be by far their most valuable asset.  The concept of goodwill encompasses the reputation of the firm and its products and the probability, based on this reputation, that consumers will continue to patronize the firm in the future. A nineteenth-century court described goodwill in these terms:

When an individual or a firm or a corporation has gone on for an unbroken series of years conducting a particular business, and has been so scrupulous in fulfilling every obligation, so careful in maintaining the standard of goods dealt in, so absolutely honest and fair in all business dealings that customers of the concern have become convinced that their experience in the future will be as satisfactory as it has been in the past, while such customers' good report of their own experience tends continually to bring new customers to the same concern, there has been produced an element of value quite as important—in some cases, perhaps far more important—than the plant or machinery with which the business is carried on.

Washburn v. National Wall-Paper Co., 81 F. 17, 20 (2d Cir. 1897).


Criticisms of the Economic Justification for Trademark Protection

Yet the example of Coca-Cola and brands like it may lead many readers to doubt the sufficiency of the economic account of trademark law, focused as it is on search costs and incentives to produce quality goods. After all, many trademarks, such as coke, do more than merely indicate the source of the goods to which they are affixed, and strictly speaking, some trademarks don’t even do that. A t-shirt bearing the trademark arsenal is not intended to indicate and is not read by consumers to indicate that Arsenal soccer players knitted the shirt themselves. The trademark primarily functions instead as a “badge of support for or loyalty or affiliation to the trademark proprietor.” Arsenal Football Club Plc v. Matthew Reed, Case C-206/01, [2003] ETMR 19, ¶ 15. This same function may be attributed to many trademarks, and not simply to high-fashion marks such as polo or prada, but also to more mundane marks such as pepsi or ford, whose owners have quite consciously sought to build “consumption communities” around these brands. See Int'l Order of Job's Daughters v. Lindeburg & Co., 633 F.2d 912, 918 (9th Cir. 1980) (recognizing that “[w]e commonly identify ourselves by displaying emblems expressing allegiances. Our jewelry, clothing, and cars are emblazoned with inscriptions showing the organizations we belong to, the schools we attend, the landmarks we have visited, the sports teams we support, the beverages we imbibe”). In such situations, the mark itself is often the primary product characteristic that the consumer wishes to acquire, and the underlying material good, if any, is merely a means of conveying that characteristic, and an alibi for the consumption of that characteristic. We typically think of a trademark as supplementary in relation to the goods to which it is affixed, as something added to preexisting goods.  But certain doctrines in trademark law may make sense only if one appreciates that for certain brands, this relation is reversed.  The brand is prior and the physical goods are supplementary to it, supporting and enhancing the brand’s value, so that a firm (for example, a fashion house) may first design a brand and then produce or license goods consistent with that brand.

Even when the consumer is interested in the quality of the material good, the trademark may contribute to deleterious “artificial product differentiation,” as when consumers pay a premium for branded versions of pharmaceuticals when lower-cost generic versions are required by government regulation to meet exactly the same quality standards as the more expensive branded versions. This argument, which associates trademarks with the purported evils of some forms of advertising, first gained significant influence with the publication in 1933 of the economist Edward Chamberlin’s book The Theory of Monopolistic Competition, which systematically formulated the artificial product differentiation view. Chamberlin’s work proved to especially influential in mid-twentieth century trademark commentary and is reflected to some degree in Justice Frankfurter’s discussion of trademarks in Mishawaka Rubber. Other courts sometimes picked up on Chamberlin’s ideas. See, e.g., Smith v. Chanel, Inc., 402 F.2d 562, 567 (2d Cir. 1968) (proposing that, through the trademark, “economically irrational elements are introduced into consumer choices; and the trademark owner is insulated from the normal pressures of price and quality competition. In consequence the competitive system fails to perform its function of allocating available resources efficiently.”).

In recent decades, however, mainstream economic thought has grown increasingly hostile towards, even dismissive of, the argument that, as Landes and Posner characterize it, trademarks “promote social waste and consumer deception” through “the power of brand advertising to bamboozle the public and thereby promote monopoly.” Instead, economists have come to view trademarks and advertising in a much more positive light. See George Stigler, The Economics of Information, 69 J. Pol. Econ. 213 (1961). The consensus view now is that advertising cheaply conveys information to consumers, particularly with respect to “experience goods.” See Phillip Nelson, Advertising as Information, 82 J. Pol. Econ. 729 (1974).  Advertising also signals that the advertiser believes its goods to be of sufficiently high quality to benefit from advertising.  “The higher quality brand will, other things being equal, have a comparative advantage in acquiring more customers by advertising—since it will retain a larger fraction of them on repeat sales.” See Jack Hirshleifer, Where Are We in the Theory of Information?, 63 Am. Econ. Rev. Proc. 31, 38 (1973).

Despite the current consensus in economic and legal thought that advertising serves important informational functions in markets, criticisms of branding and advertising remain influential in popular thought. See, e.g., Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at Brand Bullies (2000); Juliet B. Schor, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (2005). For readers sympathetic to these criticisms, two questions arise with respect to trademarks and trademark law. First, is it fair to apply general criticisms of advertising to trademarks specifically? Though trademarks are usually central to most forms of advertising, aren’t trademarks themselves mere informational devices? Second, and related, how, if at all, can trademark law be modified to limit such alleged harms as artificial product differentiation or the “bamboozl[ing]” of the public? Stated differently, how can trademark law continue to promote the ability of marks to inform consumers without also promoting the ability of marks to persuade?  How practically speaking can trademark law minimize persuasion but still preserve information? Any serious criticism of the role that trademark law plays in perpetuating status consumption or introducing “economically irrational elements” into purchasing decisions should be able to answer these questions.  Perhaps limiting the scope of trademark rights or the kinds of commercial signifiers that can be protected as trademarks would lessen the persuasive impact of strong brands. But it may be that minor modifications to trademark law will not help to ameliorate the effects of deeply-engrained consumption practices, and efforts to reform these practices will be more effective if undertaken elsewhere.

Opponents of overly expansive trademark rights (and defendants in trademark cases) may find more traction by appealing to what is arguably the true overarching goal of trademark law, one which subsumes the goals of lowering consumer search costs and incentivizing consistent levels of product quality.  Trademark law’s overarching goal is to foster competition, primarily by enabling the efficient communication of information in the marketplace.  When trademark law overprotects, it impedes the optimal flow of information to consumers, tends to give undue market power to incumbents, and can significantly disrupt the efficient operation of the patent and copyright systems (a possibility which we will address in a moment).  The argument from competition speaks the language of mainstream economics, but often does so in favor of limiting rather than expanding trademark property rights.

Comments and Questions

1.  Trademark law and “property.”  Critics of the expansion in the subject matter and scope of trademark protection in recent decades often accuse the law of having lost its purportedly traditional focus on consumer protection and having instead embraced a property-rights rationale for trademark protection.  Elsewhere in the article excerpted above in Part A, McKenna directly challenges this view:

[T]rademark law was not traditionally intended to protect consumers. Instead, trademark law, like all unfair competition law, sought to protect producers from illegitimate diversions of their trade by competitors. Courts did focus on consumer deception in these cases, but only because deception distinguished actionable unfair competition from mere competition, which was encouraged. In fact, courts denied relief in many early trademark cases despite clear evidence that consumers were likely to be confused by the defendant's use. Invariably they did so because the plaintiff could not show that the defendant's actions were likely to divert customers who otherwise would have gone to the plaintiff.

Moreover, American courts protected producers from illegitimately diverted trade by recognizing property rights. This property-based system of trademark protection was largely derived from the natural rights theory of property that predominately influenced courts during the time American trademark law developed in the nineteenth century….

Critics cannot continue simply to claim that modern law is illegitimate because it does not seek to protect consumers. Because it never really did.

Mark P. McKenna, The Normative Foundations of Trademark Law, 82 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1839, 1841, 1916 (2007).  For an alternative reading of the history of American trademark law, see Robert G. Bone, Hunting Goodwill: A History of the Concept of Goodwill in Trademark Law, 86 B.U. L. Rev. 547 (2006).

Introduction.3. Trademark Law Within the Larger Scheme of Intellectual Property Law

As the excerpt above from the Trade-Mark Cases suggests, when seen from the perspective of trademark law, copyright law and patent law can appear to be closely similar to each other and quite different from trademark law—so much so that it is not unreasonable to ask why trademark is grouped with patent and copyright under the rubric of “intellectual property law” rather than separated out as some hybrid of competition law and intellectual property law.  As the table at the conclusion of this section summarizes, both copyright and patent are based on the Intellectual Property Clause of the Constitution, which empowers Congress “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.  The Constitution thus requires copyright and patent to promote innovation, human creativity, or more generally, human “Progress,” with patent focusing primarily on incentivizing the invention of new technologies, such as new pharmaceuticals, better machines, or more efficient methods of manufacture, and copyright focusing on incentivizing the production of “works of authorship,” such as novels, music, and motion pictures.

Inventions and works of authorship share important characteristics that make intellectual property protections useful.  Both tend to be expensive to develop, but once developed, they are relatively inexpensive to reproduce in copies.  It can cost $1 billion to develop a successful pharmaceutical and bring it to market and potentially only a few dollars per copy to manufacture it.  The consumption of inventions and works of authorship also tends to be “non-rivalrous.”  A potentially unlimited number of people can benefit equally from the same idea or listen each to his or her own copy of the same recording of the same musical work.  Finally, without recourse to prohibitions established by law, it is often exceedingly difficult to exclude people from and thus charge a price for the benefit of an invention or work of authorship.  This condition has only intensified with improvements in reproduction and distribution technologies, whether they take the form of ever more flexible assembly lines, automated manufacture, or the reproduction of digital files on a home computer or the internet.

To address these problems, patent law and copyright law provide limited terms of protection to qualifying works, with patent’s term significantly shorter in duration than copyright’s.  In essence, the public makes a bargain with inventors and authors.  To incentivize them, we give them exclusive rights in their innovations so that they can recoup the costs of and perhaps profit from their innovating activity, but in exchange, we eventually claim their innovations for the public domain, where these innovations become free for all, including subsequent inventors and authors, to use.

In contrast to copyright and patent law, trademark law is based not on the Intellectual Property Clause, but the Commerce Clause.  Its goal is not to promote the progress of “Science and useful Arts” but rather to promote fair and efficient competition.  Its term of protection is unlimited in time provided that the trademark owner continues to use the trademark in commerce.  And the utilization of trademarks is arguably rivalrous.  If two firms share the same trademark for the same type of product in the same marketplace, the utility of both trademarks will be severely diminished.

For all of the differences among copyright, patent, and trademark law, note that these separate regimes of intellectual property law can simultaneously protect the same thing.  For example, a logo might qualify for both copyright and trademark protection.  A particular product feature, such as the shape of a mobile phone, might qualify for trademark protection and design patent protection. A particular furniture design might qualify for trademark protection, design patent protection, and copyright protection as well.

These overlapping regimes of exclusive rights can create significant problems in intellectual property law, some of which we will engage later in this casebook.  For example, what should happen when the term of copyright protection in a particular work of authorship expires, but that expression also functions as a trademark?  Should trademark law allow the Walt Disney Company to continue to assert exclusive rights in images of Mickey Mouse after its copyright in those images has expired?  More significantly, should companies be able to assert trademark rights in product features that also qualify for utility patent protection, or at least that perform some mechanical function in addition to serving as designations of source?


Comments and Questions

1.   Do We Want to Incentivize More Trademarks?  We generally seek through patent and copyright law to incentivize the production of more patentable inventions and more copyrightable works of authorship.  Should we similarly design trademark law to incentivize the production of more trademarks?  Is there anything intrinsically valuable about trademarks?  Do more trademarks indicate or themselves constitute “Progress”?


Trademark Law

Copyright Law

Utility Patent Law

Design Patent Law

Protectable Subject Matter

Designations of commercial source, including brand names, logos, product packaging, and product configurations

Designations of commercial source, including brand names, logos, product packaging, and product configurations

Inventions, including processes, machines, manufactured articles, and compositions of matter

Ornamental designs for articles of manufacture

Constitutional Basis


Commerce Clause

Intellectual Property Clause

Intellectual Property Clause

Intellectual Property Clause

Statutory Basis

Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq.

Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.

Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.

Patent Act, , 35 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.

Basic Requirements for Protection

Distinctive of source; used in commerce; not functional

Fixed in a tangible medium of expression; originality

Novel, non-obvious, and useful

Ornamental, novel, and non-obvious

Term of Protection

Registration lasts 10 years; perpetually renewable as long as the mark is distinctive and used in commerce

Life of the author plus 70 years; for works for hire, 95 years from date of publication

20 years from filing date of patent application

14 years from grant of patent

How Rights Are Acquired

“Common law” rights through use in commerce; registered rights through registration at PTO

Through fixation; registration not required

Patent application at PTO

Patent application at PTO


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