Trademark rights in the U.S. are acquired by applying to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Those interested in using their trademark only in Illinois can apply to the Illinois trademark offices, although as a practical matter it usually makes sense to apply only to the U.S. office because the trademark applies throughout the country.
Trademark owners can also acquire what is referred to as a common law trademark right from using the trademark in the marketplace rather than through an application to a government agency. Generally, the common law right extends only to the area where it was actually used.
Trademarks apply to what is called the source identifier, which means something that distinguishes it from other goods and services. Names, logos, symbols, designs, colors, scents, sounds, product shapes, restaurant designs, or other distinctive marks can be the subject of a trademark.
The right in a trademark exists as long as the trademark is in use. Trademarks can be abandoned in one of two ways. First, the trademark holder can discontinue its use with no intent to ever resume it. Second, the trademark holder can cause the mark to lose its significance.
Trademarks last for 10 years under federal law (five years in Illinois) and can be renewed for successive 10-year periods (five-year periods in Illinois) as long as the trademark holder wants to maintain the mark.
Companies or individuals cannot register a trademark and then sit on it. When the trademark is first registered, the one registering it has six years to establish that it is being used in commerce or it is deemed cancelled.
The federal law regulating trademarks is called the Lanham Act. The international law regulating trademarks in called the Madrid Protocol. Trademarks are registered internationally with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Unfortunately, only about 60 of the 171 WIPO member states have signed onto the Madrid Protocol.