Can trademarks be cancelled?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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It is possible for a trademark to be cancelled. The United States Patent and Trademark Office, on its own or by request, may initiate proceedings to cancel trademarks that are improperly obtained. Trademark rights can be cancelled due to abandonment, improper licensing or assignment, improper use, or if they are too generic.

How Trademarks Are Cancelled

Under current federal trademark law, trademarks are abandoned when their use is discontinued by a company with no intent to ever resume the use. Abandonment is also considered automatic by trademark law when the mark has not been used for three consecutive years.

Trademarks are meant to be used and those that are not in use cannot be stored away if they are never to be used again. After registration, trademarks will be cancelled for failure to use and failure to file a paper between the fifth and sixth year of the trademark, which would have indicated continuous use of the mark.

Trademarks can be licensed under current law. However, licensors must supervise the use of their trademark. This quality control requirement ensures that the public receives consistent products regardless of the licensee. This also ensures that the public will associate that particular trademark accurately.

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Trademarks Cancelled for Other Reason Besides Lack of Use

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the statutory power to cancel trademarks it finds generic or prohibit the use of trademarks that constitute false advertising. However, in 1980, Congress forbade the FTC to proceed with a cancellation for generic reasons when it sought to cancel the “Formica” trademark. This stricture has been continually renewed since then. The Food and Drug Administration also has the authority to prohibit the use of trademarks it finds illegal under the Food and Drug Laws.

Trademarks that are too generic can be cancelled at any time by the trademark commission. A classic example is Zataran’s attempt at trademarking “Chick-Fri.” While the term may have been dubbed by the company, it is too close to the generic description of “chicken fry” to be considered a valid trademark.

Protecting a Trademark From Cancellation

When creating a trademark for your business, there are two simple ways to protect your trademark from cancellation. First, create a fanciful mark instead of one using existing words. Trademarks such as “Xerox”, “Kleenex”, and “Logitech” use unique, non-existing words, which can guarantee a higher degree of protection. Second, always stay current on your paperwork and fees. Remember that a trademark is only protected as long as you are willingly paying for the protection.

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