In our previous post, we began looking at the topic of trademark protection. As we mentioned, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the agency responsible for federally registering trademarks, but the USPTO does not enforce trademark protection against third parties. That is the job of companies who hold a registered trademark.
One important point to understand about trademark protection is that it is not necessary to register a trademark through the USPTO. Trademark protection can be established under state law by state registration or by simply using a mark in commerce. There are certain advantages, though, with federal trademark registration.
One of the benefits of federal registration of a mark is that there is a legal presumption of ownership and the exclusive right to use the mark nationwide. State trademark protection is, by comparison, more limited. Federal registration also allows the holder to: use the registration symbol ® in connection with the mark; bring an action to enforce the mark in federal court, and prevent the importation of foreign goods that may infringe on the trademark. It also streamlines the process for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
One area where trademark disputes are common is in the alcoholic beverage industry. Branding is important in any industry, but it is particularly important for alcoholic beverage makers given the stiff competition. A recent trademark dispute involving a California winemaker demonstrates how particular trademark disputes can be resolved, the potential challenges in settling trademark disputes, and the benefit of federal trademark registration.
At issue in the dispute is the use of the word “essential” on wine labels. Although the dispute has not yet been resolved, the fact that one of the companies has federal trademark protection for its mark may give it an advantage. We’ll look briefly at this case in our next post.