Ask a Trademark Attorney: The History of Trademarks

Trademarks, in some form or fashion, have actually been in existence for thousands of years.  Seals have been identified from as early as 3500 B.C. That were used to stamp goods as being manufactured by a particular artisan.  While trademark attorneys in the sense that they exist today were not around back then, there were likely individuals that defended the artisans who found that their seals had been used on counterfeit products.  For as long as there has been marks of a particular trade there has also been unscrupulous individuals who have wanted to use these marks to make counterfeit goods.

During the Middle Ages trade guilds began to use marks to differentiate the products produced by members of the guilds from those produced by tradesman who were not part of the guild.  These practices were later adopted by those in other fields including paper makers who developed the watermark.  By 1363, all silversmiths were required to mark their products so that the origin would be known.  This led to the first official trademark infringement case in 1618.  A company that manufactured a superior quality cloth brought legal action against a competitor, who produced an inferior quality cloth but who had been using the marking of the manufacturer of the superior quality cloth.  Thus was born the job of the trademark attorney.

In 1791, Thomas Jefferson proposed laying out laws to govern the use of trademarks.  Since federal legislation of trademarks moved a bit slowly, many states decided to adopt their own laws for governing the use of trademarks in the key commercial areas of the region.  Eventually the federal government was able to catch up in the process and federal legislation was passed to govern trademarks.  Averill Paints received the first modern trademark issued by the United States in 1870.  

Now the average supermarket contains over 50,000 trademarks on the different products that they sell.  Some things that started out as the name of a specific product became attached so strongly to that product that now the product is known by that name.  A notable case of this is aspirin.  Aspirin was originally the name of specific brand of pain reliever, but over time all brands that fit into that category came to be known as aspirin.  A trademark attorney can make sure that the “lost trademark” issue never arises with any of your trademarks, though if your brand name evolves into the generic name for a product you have likely done pretty…

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