When it comes to trademarks, the phrase “use it or lose it” is fitting.
If a trademark is used properly, your rights in the mark can last forever. Fun fact: The oldest registered trademark in the USA is more than 130 years old, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (meaning it was registered in 1884)!
Other trademarks haven’t fared so well. For example, the mark DRY ICE used to function as a brand – meaning it distinguished a particular product from those sold by other businesses. Over time, however, consumers started using this mark incorrectly, and eventually understood it to be the generic name of the product itself rather than the source-indicating brand (i.e., all mist produced by solid carbon dioxide is now called “dry ice”). As a result, everyone – not just the trademark owner – can now use this mark to refer to the product.
So, how do you use a trademark “properly” to avoid losing these important rights? Let’s face it: You’re in a long-term relationship with your brand, so it’s important to give it a little love. The key is remembering that trademarks are special. What we mean is that trademarks are different from ordinary words, so they should be treated as such. The more a trademark owner can do to make its mark stand out from the words around it, the stronger that mark will be.