What is the Lanham Act?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2020
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Also called the Trademark Act, the Lanham Act is a federal statute adopted in the United States that governs trademark law in the commercial arena. It was first enacted in 1946, and it can be found at Title 15, Chapter 22 of the United States Code. Consisting of four general subchapters, the Lanham Act has been amended several times by the U.S. Congress. The Act is not the sole governing trademark law in the United States. Many states have enacted their own trademark laws, and state and federal common law also governs the registration, treatment, and protection of trademarks.

Subchapter I of the Lanham Act addresses The Principal Register, which is the federal system used for registering marks that qualify as trademarks, service marks, certification marks, or collective marks. Not all marks fall under this provision of the Act. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is charged with reviewing each registration application and determining whether it can be properly registered. A mark may be denied registration for a variety of reasons, as specified in the Act. Some examples include an immoral, deceptive, or scandalous mark, a mark that is confusingly similar to an existing mark, or a mark that is merely descriptive of goods, qualities, or features.


The Supplemental Register is addressed in Subchapter II of the Lanham Act. This Register is a system used for recording marks that can’t be recorded on the Principal Register for some reason. For example, a mark that isn’t yet inherently distinctive may be listed on the Supplemental Register. While a mark entered in the Supplemental Register doesn’t enjoy all of the benefits granted to Principal Register marks, it is entitled to limited protection as long as it’s not generic and it is used in commerce.

Subchapter III of the Lanham Act, which sets forth the Act’s general provisions, is one of the most important provisions. It details the remedies available to registered trademark owners in the event of trademark infringement by another party. An injunction against further infringement is the primary remedy awarded the trademark owner in an infringement suit. Other possible awards include attorneys fees and, in some cases, monetary damages.

Subchapter IV is the final chapter of the Lanham Act, titled "he Madrid Protocol." Essentially, the Madrid Protocol is an international treaty that permits trademark owners to register a trademark in any participating countries by filing a single international application. It became effective in the United States on 2 November, 2003.


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