When do trademarks expire?
A reader considers getting a trademark, but wonders how long the protection will last.
(FSB Magazine) -- Dear FSB: How long does it take to obtain a trademark? And how long will one protect my idea? --Chuck Christenson II, CBC Industries Columbus, Neb.
Dear Chuck: Getting a trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office takes about 15 months. It's pretty cheap: The initial application fee is $375 to file on paper and $325 electronically. For all the details, go to http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm.
You don't need a lawyer to get a trademark, but it would be worth your while to retain one to defend it. Your trademark is valid forever as long as a stern letter from your lawyer warns any would-be imitators that they are infringing on it.
"The key is constant vigilance," says Richard Mallsby, a USPTO spokesman. "The big companies behind trademarked brands like Band-Aid and Styrofoam all have lawyers who are careful to keep those names from becoming generic terms."
Once a brand name passes into such common usage that no one regards it as a proper noun anymore, its trademark can be ruled invalid, and anyone can capitalize on all the marketing you've put into it. (That's what happened to "Escalator": The company that owned the name let it become synonymous with moving staircases, and lost the trademark.)
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