How Long Do Trademarks Last?

Federal Trademarks last 10 years, as long as you file a statement (called a section 8 affidavit) that the mark is still in use between the fifth and sixth year. Trademarks can last indefinitely if you continue to file maintenance documents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You also have to use your trademark as described in registration documents and defend it from infringement.

Why Is Trademark Registration Maintenance Important?

Registration maintenance keeps your trademark active. To do this, you have to prove that you're continuing to use your trademark.

You can't continue to register a trademark if you don't use it. This prevents individuals and companies from stashing unused trademarks.

If you don't continue to register a trademark, you'll have to abandon it which allows the USPTO to remove inactive trademarks from its records.

Initial Trademark Registration

When you register a trademark, you gain the rights to exclude others from using it. This protects your brand name, your logo, and the names of distinctive products. It also prevents confusion in the marketplace.

Registering a trademark doesn't mean you own a word, a brand, or a logo. It just allows you to prevent others from using it for profit.

Trademark Types

You can register the following types of trademarks:

  • Descriptive: Descriptive trademarks describe certain goods or services. They can be general terms if you can prove that consumers identify your descriptive term exclusively with your company.
  • Suggestive: Suggestive trademarks refer to certain goods or services. They encourage consumers to use their imaginations to understand the nature of the products or services.
  • Arbitrary: Arbitrary trademarks are common terms that don't have any direct connection to your goods and services. They are generally the easiest to register.
  • Fanciful: Fanciful trademarks are distinctive, newly coined terms that have no prior meaning. They often have the greatest amount of trademark protection.

Prohibited Trademark Types

You can't register a trademark that's already in use. A trademark search reveals whether a trademark is already taken. You also can't register the following types of trademarks:

  • Generic Terms
  • Last Names
  • Geographic Terms
  • Scandalous Marks
  • Deceptive Marks

Initial Trademark Registration Period

You should always file a trademark application for your brand, logo, or product as soon as possible. You can start the process by filing an intent-to-use trademark application. This holds your place in line. It also protects your products and services as you launch your brand.

When you first register a trademark, the term covers 10 years. You have to use the trademark to keep it active during this time, though. Your registration will also lapse if you don't file continuation documents before the sixth year of your initial registration period.

Trademark Registration Maintenance

The USPTO will cancel your trademark if you don't keep the registration active. You have to file registration maintenance documents at regular time intervals.

Section 8 Affidavit

Between the fifth and sixth year of your original trademark registration date, you have to file a Section 8 Affidavit. This statement confirms that you're still using the trademark as issued.

Section 15 Declaration

Also known as the Declaration of Incontestability, a Section 15 Declaration states that your trademark is immune from challenge. This isn't required, but it gives you added protection from future challenges or infringers.

You can file this after using your trademark for five consecutive years after the original registration date. You can do this when you submit the Section 8 Affidavit.

Section 9 Affidavit

Between the ninth and 10th years of your original trademark registration date, you have to file a Section 9 Affidavit. Like the Section 8 Affidavit, this confirms that you're still using the trademark as issued.

The Section 9 Affidavit effectively adds 10 more years to your trademark registration. You have to file another Section 9 Affidavit between the ninth and 10th years of every future trademark registration period. If you do this, you can have trademark protection for an unlimited period of time.

Additional Requirements

In addition to filing these documents, you have to use and defend your trademark. If you don't do these things continually, you could lose the rights to your trademark. Watch out for the following issues:

  • Nonuse:  If you stop using a trademark for three years, it can be considered inactive or abandoned. Another party may have the right to begin using your trademark.
  • Excusable Nonuse: In some cases, you can defend nonuse with a reasonable excuse. Forced nonuse means special, unavoidable circumstances made you stop using the trademark. This could include a trade embargo or a necessary update to the equipment used to manufacture your products. A business decision or low market demand isn't an excusable nonuse. To argue an excusable nonuse case, you have to describe when and why you stopped using the trademark. You also have to state when you plan to continue and what steps you'll take to do so.
  • Dilution: If infringers start using similar trademarks, you have to defend your rights. If you don't, dilution can occur. This can prevent you from claiming exclusive rights to your brand or logo.
  • Common Use: If a trademarked name becomes integral to the product itself, this is known as common use. It usually happens when a product name becomes so popular that it's used as a general term. For instance, Kleenex is interchangeable with the product it describes.

Common Mistakes

  • Not Filing Maintenance Documents

If you don't meet filing deadlines, you might have to abandon your trademark.

  • Not Using Your Trademark

If you don't use your trademark, you might have to abandon it.

  • Not Taking Your Registration Date Into Account

Trademarks registered before 1989 are subject to different renewal periods. Check with the USPTO to confirm your original filing date and which renewal period applies to you.

  • Choosing the Wrong Trademark Class

When you register a trademark, you have to choose from 45 different classes. Choosing the wrong one can limit trademark protection. Use the USPTO search feature to make the choice easier. You can file a trademark in more than one class if your product or service spans a few classes.

  • Failing to Enforce Your Trademark

Your trademark only holds up if you enforce your rights. If another party infringes your trademark, you can send a cease and desist letter. If that doesn't stop the other party, you can file a lawsuit. You can also sue for money if you can prove that the infringer made money off use of your trademarked logo, brand, or product.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will I Receive Reminders When My Registration Period Is Ending?

No, the USPTO doesn't send reminders. You have to track your registration dates and file maintenance documents as necessary.

  • What Happens If I Miss a Filing Deadline?

The USPTO will cancel your trademark registration automatically. This happens immediately.

  • Is There a Grace Period?

There's a six-month grace period for each filing date. To use it, you'll have to file an additional affidavit and pay an extra fee.

  • How Long Does It Take to Get a Trademark?

The initial trademark registration takes as little as nine months. It can take up to several years, especially if legal issues arise. The USPTO issues most trademarks within one year.

  • How Is Registering a Trademark Different From Registering With the State?

Registering your business with the state prevents another company in a similar line of business from registering with a similar name. This doesn't protect your business name in other states, though. A trademark offers nationwide protection.

  • How Can I Register My Trademark Around the World?

There is no international trademark registration. You can file trademark applications with the European Union, the Madrid Protocol, or the Andean Pact. This gives you protection in groups of countries. You can also register with individual nations directly.

  • How Is a Trademark Different From a Copyright or a Patent?

Copyright protection applies to creative works, like art, books, and software. Patent protection applies to inventions and designs.

  • Can I Trademark a Company Logo and Name at Once?

No, you have to register multiple trademarks to protect logos, brand names, and product names. On the other hand, you can register your business name with a standard character claim. This can help stretch the basic trademark protection further, but it doesn't protect your logo.

  • Can I Trademark My Name?

Yes, you can do this if your name identifies your business. Your name must also be distinctive. If it's relatively common or uses common elements, you probably can't trademark your name.

  • Can You Use a Trademark to Secure a Domain Name for Your Brand?

Yes, you can sue an infringing domain for profiting off your brand. You have to be able to prove that the infringer has used your brand as a domain name in bad faith.

Use the USPTO registration site to check the status of your trademark.

  • How Do I Use My Trademark?

Use the TM, SM, or ® symbols after your trademarked name or logo. You can't use these until your trademark is officially registered.

Steps to Register a Trademark

1. File the Initial Trademark Registration

Use the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) to file your trademark application. You can also contact the Trademark Assistance Center (800-786-9199) to get a paper form. Your application should include:

  • Statement of use
  • List of other preexisting examples of use
  • Filing fee
  • Drawing of the trademark
  • Specimen of the trademark

2. File a Section 8 Affidavit

Mark your calendar for the fifth anniversary of your original trademark registration. Before the sixth anniversary, use TEAS to file a Section 8 Affidavit.

3. File a Section 9 Affidavit

Mark your calendar for the ninth anniversary of your original trademark registration. Before the 10th anniversary, use TEAS to file a Section 9 Affidavit. Do this at the 19th, 29th, and 39th anniversaries of your original registration. This offers continual protection, as long as you keep using the trademark.

If you need help with registering a trademark, you can post your question or concern on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.