Trademarks, like other intellectual property, are very valuable. Today, much of a business’ value is in intellectual property, as opposed to goods or other physical assets.
Many business owners consider trademarks the most valuable form of intellectual property, because they represent your brand.
One day, you might face difficulty with someone illegally using your mark. It’s a good idea to understand the statute of limitations for trademark infringements, so you know how to protect your rights.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A TRADEMARK?
A trademark is a word, phrase, or symbol which lets consumers know the source of a product or service. Usually, it’s a brand name or logo.
Your trademark is valuable because, without it, your customers wouldn’t know the source of your products or services.
When someone uses your trademark without permission, they are illegally trying to gain the benefit of association with your company.
WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEONE STEALS MY TRADEMARK?
If someone uses your trademark without your permission, they could be harming your business. After all, if your customers have come to depend on your quality, a counterfeiter could be ruining your reputation.
Illegal use of a trademark is called “infringement,” and you can sue to protect your rights. If you win, you can receive compensation from the infringing party. You can also block them from using your trademark in the future.
DO I NEED TO REGISTER MY TRADEMARK?
Businesses have rights in trademarks, whether they are registered or unregistered. But, it’s a good idea to register trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for added protection.
Registering with the USPTO gives you national protection in your trademark. It also means you automatically have the right to sue in federal court.
If someone is infringing on your trademark, you should contact a Florida intellectual property lawyer to protect yourself.
WHAT ARE STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS?
You will find statutes of limitations throughout the law. They set out how much time a person or business has to sue if someone has violated their rights.
Courts have an interest in deciding cases with fresh evidence, and they don’t want injured parties taking forever to bring a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations operate to make sure injured parties file lawsuits promptly.
If you wait too long to sue, a judge will throw your case out of court. This means no lawsuit, no compensation, and potentially more infringement.
WHAT IS THE TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
Most trademark cases fall under federal law, specifically the Lanham Act. Suing under the Lanham Act allows a business to get into federal court, which has advantages, like the possibility of high monetary damages. You can also tack on state law claims.
Interestingly, the Lanham Act does not specify a statute of limitations for trademark infringements. This means that judges must determine an appropriate amount of time to give injured parties to sue.
They do this by applying a concept called “laches.” Laches is an equitable concept. It prevents lawsuits when it wouldn’t be fair to ask the defendant to defend themselves, because too much time has passed.
When deciding whether to apply laches, federal courts look to similar state law claims and check their statutes of limitation.
For example, one district court looked at state unfair competition claims as an analog to trademark infringement. A Florida unfair competition claim has a four-year statute of limitations, so a court will expect an injured party to file a lawsuit within that window of time.
Under this analysis, the clock will start running once you have a valid claim for infringement. “Valid claim” means when there is a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace caused by the similar trademark—which might be later than when you first discover the mark.
HOW TO BUILD A CASE FOR TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT
As soon as you notice infringement, you should document the unauthorized use of your trademark and contact a Florida intellectual property attorney. For example, if you see a trademark very similar to yours used on a product, buy the product and keep the receipt to show the date you purchased it.
If you see a trademark on a website, print off the website and make sure the date is visible. Your attorney will want to see the extent of the use, which can help in an investigation.
You should also move quickly. Technically, as discussed above, the statute of limitations period doesn’t start until consumers may be experiencing confusion about the two trademarks. If your competitor has no market presence, there probably is no confusion yet.
However, you need an attorney’s advice about the correct time to sue. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to delay taking legal action because you don’t think someone is harming your company. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
“More than ever, the value of a business is in its Trademarks-its name, brands, and logos. Just like taking steps to protect your home or office from theft, business owners must protect their businesses from trademark infringement.”
BrewerLong Attorney Ashley Brewer
CONTACT A FLORIDA INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ATTORNEY NOW
You’ve worked hard to increase the value of your brand, and your trademarks are a key part. If you learn that another business is using a similar mark as yours, you might need to sue to stop its use.
Contact BrewerLong today. Our Florida business lawyers have decades of combined experience in this area of law, and we are anxious to help you protect your business. You can reach us today for a free introductory phone call by dialing 407-660-2964.