Lecture 26: Trademark Law in the United States


[Music] What is the origin of federal trademark law
in the United States? As the young United States rapidly developed
its commerce and industry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, propelled
in no small part by the nation’s unusually democratic and effective patent laws, the
states developed increasingly sophisticated and complex trademark laws. Eventually, however, as America’s many local
and regional markets coalesced into a single, unified, national economy, Congress tried
to federalize trademark law, although it had no express constitutional authority to do
so. Congress passed the first national trademark
laws in 1870 and 1876. However, in 1879, a set of three court challenges
consolidated into a single appeal came before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Freeman
Miller ruled that the Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution gave Congress no
explicit authority to regulate trademarks, and declared the 1870 and 1876 trademark laws
unconstitutional. Two years later, Congress instead acted under
the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to pass the TradeMark Act of 1881. This first national trademark law, however,
only regulated trademarks used in commerce with other nations and with Indian tribes. It wasn’t until 1905 that Congress passed
another trademark statute regulating the use of marks within the United States. Those two trademark laws were subsequently
overhauled by the Lanham Act of 1946, which, to this day, remains the principal law of
the land on trademarks in the United States. What is the Lanham Act? The Lanham Act broadened national registration
of trademarks, and also gave owners of unregistered marks many rights, including the exclusive
right to the mark in the geographic area of its use. The act also established additional rights
for federally-registered trademarks, including bars on the sale or importation of infringing
products. It also established measures to weed out trademarks
that have been abandoned or are no longer in commercial use, known as the “deadwood”
prevision. For example, after 119 years in business,
the world-famous retailer Woolworth’s went bankrupt in 1997 and its trademark was no
longer protected. The trademark for 83-year-old Hostess Twinkies,
however, was acquired by two private equity firms for $410 million because they see future
profit in the iconic brand—and in the customers who love it.

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