Well-known trademarks receive special consideration that normal trademarks don't enjoy. This is because these famous marks are exposed to unique risks and stand to lose a lot if their reputation is damaged. Highlighted below are details about well-known marks and the extra attention they're given worldwide.

Well-known Trademarks: Introduction

A well-known trademark is one that's considered reputable and that the general public (consumers, manufacturers, and all those involved in the sale and production of trademarked goods) commonly knows about.

Well-known trademarks are easy to recognize and are very protectable, regardless of whether they're registered, because of this notoriety. This notoriety protects well-known trademarks against infringing similar products that:

  • Are a reproduction of the trademarked goods
  • Imitate or copy the protected mark
  • Cause confusion as to whether the goods and services are imitators or legitimate products of the well-known trademark

Though these regulations typically apply to infringing products in the same industry as the well-known mark, some countries account for infringing products that aren't similar to the protected goods and services. The extensive protections granted to well-known or famous trademarks is important because these marks are widely acknowledged and held in high regard. These laws also help the owner of the mark protect their intellectual property, even if the infringer operates in a country where the mark isn't registered. This protects the mark owner as well as consumers, who can rest easy knowing that the products they're purchasing are legitimate.

Even though trademark law doesn't officially make exceptions for famous, well-known marks, it's easier for the owners of these marks to protect their rights. Legislators are also usually proactive about resolving any infringement that may affect the reputation of a famous company. The only issue that may arise is if a trademark is well-known in one country but not in the country where it's copied.

These laws are also important given the nature of our global economy. It's easy for infringers in virtually any nation to advertise products and services by infringing a well-known mark online. The extra but unofficial protections extended to famous marks helps resolve these issues quickly, without appeal, and no matter what the infringer's country of origin is.

Risks for Holders of Famous Marks

Though famous marks enjoy some special considerations worldwide, this is only because they're especially at risk to a few key issues. Well-known marks are exposed to:

  • Pirates: Thieves love to prey on popular marks. Not only can they potentially get away with passing off knockoffs of popular products, but they know that the cost of opposing and actually stopping the infringement can be astronomical or impossible — especially when the rightful owner would have to work internationally to stop the infringement.
  • National barriers to trademark law: The owner of a mark who sells goods or services in one state probably won't have to deal with international infringement. Owners of well-known marks, though, could easily have to navigate national and civil laws overseas in order to stop the infringement. This is a problem for U.S. and other common law–based marks, because some countries assign exclusive rights to a mark based on first use rather than registration.
  • Common law loopholes: In the U.S. and other countries that follow these laws, the owner of a trademark just has to use the mark commercially — they don't have to officially register it to enjoy trademark protections. Pirates in countries that don't follow this law can register the well-known mark there and potentially receive exclusive rights to it in that country. Even legitimate companies can cause this type of difficulty for an owner who doesn't register a mark before it becomes well-known.

The special considerations given to famous and well-known marks can help businesses protect their intellectual property from these problems at home and abroad. In situations where a company or individual registers an infringing mark (innocently or otherwise) in a country that doesn't follow trademark common law, a mark owner can refer to evidence of use, the fact that the mark is famous or well-known, and whether the infringer has acted in bad faith to try to resolve the situation.

Though holding a well-known trademark extends excellent additional protections beyond what a standard trademark registration can offer, having your mark acknowledged as “famous” or “well-known” is difficult. Moreover, there isn't a standard definition for a well-known mark, so even a famous company in one country may struggle to protect its intellectual property overseas.

If you need help with well-known trademarks, you can post your legal need 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.