The purpose of trademark law is primarily concerned with protecting consumers rather than protecting trademark owners. However, trademark owners have the duty to enforce their trademark rights against trademark infringers and counterfeiters.
The general perception is trademark law exists in order to protect trademark owners from trademark infringers and knockoffs diluting their brand. This is partially correct, however it is more accurate to say that the main purpose of trademark law is to protect consumers from unknowingly purchasing products from trademark infringers and counterfeiters that do not live up to the standards of well known trademarks.
The best way for consumers to know the quality of a product they are buying is by seeing the trademark and knowing whether it is a good product or not. For example, avid fashionistas know when they buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, it is made of high quality materials, is well constructed and is built to last. Whereas if they buy a handbag off the discount rack at Wal-Mart, they know they are not getting a handbag as well designed and crafted as a Louis Vuitton hand bag.
When courts started protecting trademarks at common law, giving business owners the exclusive right to use their trademarks in commerce, it was to protect consumers. Think about how confusing it would be for consumers at checkout at the grocery store if there was no trademark protection. Any company could use the SKITTLES trademark and consumers would have no way to tell what package is the original and well known SKITTLES. Simply put, it would be chaos for consumers making shopping decisions based on past experiences with brands.
Even though the purpose of trademark law is to help consumers, it is up to trademark owners to protect their brand against trademark infringement and counterfeiters. Trademark owners need to assert their rights against parties that infringe their trademarks. Trademark owners who do not diligently police their trademarks against infringement and counterfeiters risk losing their trademark rights.
The best way for trademark owners to assert trademark rights is to first obtain a trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). USPTO trademark registrations give trademark owners added protections and benefits not granted to trademark owners relying merely on common law trademark rights. Trademark owners are more likely to obtain a trademark registration if they hire a trademark attorney to prepare, file and follow their trademark application through the entire trademark application process.
LOUIS VUITTON trademark registration from 1976 for "LUGGAGE AND LADIES' HANDBAGS"
Once trademark owners have a trademark registration, it is important they monitor the marketplace for trademark infringement and enforce their trademark rights against trademark infringers and counterfeiters. It is important to enforce trademark rights diligently for two reasons. First, the longer a company uses a confusingly similar trademark, the more defenses they have if/when a trademark infringement lawsuit is brought. Second, the more crowded a trademark field becomes, the harder it is to enforce trademark rights. To learn more about the importance of trademark owners enforcing trademark rights, see our full blog post.
Do you have any questions about trademark law in general or want to do more to protect your trademark rights? Contact us for a Free Trademark Consultation and one of our experienced trademark attorneys will reach out to you within 24 hours.