As long as a trademark is properly maintained, it can potentially last forever (unlike its cousins, copyright and patent – covered in another article). Generally, trademark protection is granted based on its use and on its distinctiveness, so if either or both of those things is gone, then the trademark may be lost.
When trademarks are no longer used, they become abandoned. Similarly, they can also become abandoned if they are not renewed at the proper intervals of time from when they are registered, which could be the result of improperly maintaining the mark or purposefully allowing the mark to go inactive due to it no longer being used.
Owning a trademark means that you have a thing that allows your product or service to stand out from the crown, but simply stating what that thing is would simply be describing it. Now, even if you come up with a clever name, like Kleenex, the consumers can ruin your perfectly laid plain by calling any kind of tissue a “Kleenex”! This example is actually a true story, and describes exactly how trademark protection can be lost by losing its “distinctiveness.”
What this basically means is that your own customers can actually turn the protection around on you if you become too well-known! But, there is a silver lining... Some descriptive trademarks can gain a secondary meaning if it essentially proves that even though it is descriptive, the consumers only think about your specific brand and not the entirety of the genre of goods.
Learn more: What Every Brand Owner Needs To Know About Filing a Trademark Application & Four Reasons Why Not Having a Registered Trademark Can Cost You Big Money
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Randal Robinson is an intellectual property lawyer. Randal focuses his practice on the prosecution and litigation of trademarks.