What does it mean to abandon a trademark?

One fundamental difference between trademarks and patents is that trademarks require ongoing and continuous usage in order to maintain exclusive rights. A renewal of a trademark registration, therefore, requires the owner to declare that the trademark has been and continues to be used on the goods and/or services identified in the registration. Acceptable evidence of current usage must also be provided to maintain a trademark registration.

According to 15 USC 1127, a trademark is considered abandoned if “its use has been discontinued with intent not to resume such use.” The intent not to resume may be inferred from circumstances. Trademark abandonment, therefore, requires two elements:

  1. nonuse; and
  2. intent not to resume use.

Patents, on the other hand, need not be used in order to survive. Utility patents simply require maintenance fees to be paid at certain time periods following the grant date while design patents require no maintenance fee payments. Keep in mind that patents have finite terms with definite expiration dates while trademark registrations can be renewed indefinitely as long as they are not abandoned.

What is a presumption of abandonment?

Nonuse of a mark for three consecutive years creates a legal presumption that the mark has been abandoned. Legal presumptions relate to burdens of proof. So, if a presumption of abandonment has been established, the burden shifts to the trademark owner to show that the mark has been in use during the time period or that the owner has an intent to resume use.

For example, a trademark owner may try to provide evidence of special circumstances to show that nonuse of the mark was temporal, and that the owner has the intention to resume usage. An owner could also provide examples of limited use or other commercial efforts to show intent to resume use of the mark in the reasonably foreseeable future.

What is a partial opposition or partial cancellation?

A petition to cancel a registration on the grounds of abandonment is brought under Section 14 of the Lanham Act [15 USC 1064]. As discussed above, a challenger seeking to prove abandonment must show both nonuse and intent not to resume.

In certain circumstances, it may be prudent to apply a more surgical approach to modify or remove from a cited registration only specific goods or services that are blocking an applicant from registering a mark. Such obstacles might be removed with a partial cancellation under Section 18 of the Trademark Act [15 USC 1068].

A partial cancellation action filed with the TTAB must plead that the proposed restriction or modification to the registration will avoid likelihood of confusion [15 TBMP 309.03(d)]. Unlike a cancellation action due to abandonment brought under Section 14, a petitioner seeking partial cancellation can show merely nonuse without having to prove an intent not to resume. [See Johnson & Johnson and Roc International S.A.R.L. v. Obschestvo s Ogranitchennoy; Otvetstvennostiu WDS (TTAB 2012)].

What is abandonment of a trademark application?

So far, we have been discussing the abandonment of trademark rights due to an owner’s failure to use the mark with an intent not to resume. That is to be distinguished from abandonment of a trademark application which results from the failure of an applicant to respond timely to certain deadlines. For example, failure to respond to an Office Action or to file a Statement of Use can result in abandonment of an application.

Abandoning a trademark application, however, does not necessarily mean that an owner has abandoned trademark rights. It is possible for an owner to continue using a trademark even if its application was abandoned.

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Vic Lin

Vic Lin

Startup Patent Attorney | IP Chair at Innovation Capital Law Group
We love working with startups and small businesses. I help entrepreneurs protect their intellectual property so they can reach their business goals.