The Lanham Act

The Lanham Act is the primary statute governing federal trademark law.


The Lanham Act, sometimes referred to as the Trademark Act, was passed and signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946 and began taking effect the following year. The Lanham Act, named after Representative Fritz G. Lanham of Texas, is the main statute governing trademark law in the United States. It is codified into law at 15 U.S.C. § 1125.  The Lanham Act created the federal trademark registration system and prohibits activities such as trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and false advertising.

Texas Representative Fritz G. Lanham was a strong proponent of federal trademark protection.


Creation of the Principal and Supplemental Trademark Registers


One of the main purposes of the Lanham Act was to create a federal trademark registration system and to set the guidelines of what trademarks can and cannot be registered. In particular, section two (§2) of the Lanham Act states that “No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it…” The broad nature of this language has led to trademarks for sounds, colors, and scents to be registered along with more traditional trademarks such as word marks and logos.


Section 2 goes on to state reasons why a trademark may not be registered such as it is not distinctive (§2(e)) or likely to cause confusion with a different trademark (§2(d)). The language of section two in particular, which falls under subchapter one of the Lanham Act, is the primary basis for the rules at the United States Patent Office that govern what trademarks are and are not registrable on the principal trademark register.


The rules governing what trademarks are eligible for the supplemental register, and not the principal register or no register at all, are governed by subchapter two of the Lanham Act.

Table of Contents for subchapters one and two of the Lanham Act.


The Statutory Creation of Civil Trademark Enforcement and Remedies


Subchapter three of the Lanham Act contains many general provisions regarding trademark law, but is most well known for the provisions that allow trademark owners to sue third parties for infringement, counterfeiting, likelihood of confusion, dilution and more. In addition, it provides extraordinary remedies for trademark owners if they are successful in their lawsuits against alleged infringers including injunctions and treble damages in some instances.


A lot of the civil trademark enforcement rules are contained in §43. §43 was an effort to codify many of the civil actions courts had already recognized under common law to allow plaintiffs more clarity about what were actionable offenses, what would the rules around them be, and what they could expect to receive in damages if they were successful.


The Lanham Act has been updated throughout the years to respond to changes Congress did not foresee and to modernize it to keep in harmony with the world economy by implementing procedures agreed to in the international trademark treaty, the Madrid Protocol. It has been largely left unchanged, however. A testament to the job of the original drafters of the Lanham Act.


Do you have any questions about the Lanham Act? Leave a comment or contact us and we will do our best to help you out.

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