Earlier this month, the Lanham Act saw its 75th Anniversary.  On July 5th, 1947, the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act, went into effect after being signed by President Harry S. Truman the year prior.   The Lanham Act created the modern day national trademark registration system and enforced federal protections for trademark holders.  Expanded upon throughout the decades, it has been a critical piece of trademark legislation for the last seventy-five years.

Trademarks are around us every day – they present themselves on the toothpaste we use in the morning to the garbage bags we take out at night. The idea of trademarks dates back to before the common era, wherein manufacturers of goods would leave identifying symbols on their products. Artifacts from Rome have been found with engraved marks of initials and names of what are presumed to be the makers.  Historians note that blacksmiths who made swords for the Roman Empire were the first to use trademarks.  

Prior to the Lanham Act, federally enforced trademark legislation was somewhat ineffective and state statutes held most of the burden.  In addition, trademarks did not expire, regardless of their use.  Once the Lanham Act was enacted, it provided the procedures for federally registering trademarks and maintaining those registrations.  The Lanham Act also gives trademark holders federal jurisdiction in enforcing their rights to the mark against infringers, including unregistered trademark infringement. In addition, the Lanham Act provides a cause of action for trademark dilution, cybersquatting, unfair competition and false advertising.  An example of the use of the Lanham Act in enforcing rights against false advertising claims is seen in General Mills, Inc. v. Chobani, LLC, 158 F. Supp. 3d 106 (N.D.N.Y. 2016); Chobani, LLC v. Dannon Company, Inc., 157 F. Supp. 3d 190 (N.D.N.Y. 2016).  In 2016, yogurt makers Dannon and General Mills (Yoplait) sued their yogurt competitor Chobani for violations under the Lanham Act for commercials that featured products from the brands in poor light. The ads mentioned ingredients such as sucralose being used in Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt and potassium sorbate in Yoplait Greek 100 and implied both were not safe for consumptions; and the court ordered Chobani to pull the ads containing the false message.  

The Lanham Act is an important piece of legislation in the world of trademarks. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) celebrates the anniversary today with a webinar featuring guest speakers such as Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Representative Ted Deutch of Florida and more. 

For more information about trademarks, please contact Kim Grimsley at kim@olivergrimsley.com.