Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

What is the Lanham Act in trademark law?

Businesses spend a great deal of money to develop and protect their intellectual property. Consequently, they view any attempt by a competitor to reduce the value of that property with justifiable alarm. One of the most potent legal weapons for protecting a firm's trademarks, patents, trade dress, and copyrights is the little known but very effective Lanham Act.

The Lanham Act was passed by Congress in 1946 and signed into law by President Harry Truman. The statute is intended to protect merchants and manufacturers against common forms of piracy or dilution of intellectual property (including cyberpiracy), unfair competition based upon untrue statements about a company or its products and false advertising (the statute was amended in 1988 to include false advertising.) The act is intended to protect registered trademarks against unfair competition, but it is frequently used to attack a wide variety of trademark uses that are likely to cause consumer confusion.

Companies who wish to invoke the Lanham Act can seek injunctive relief, damages, or both. To succeed with a Lanham Act claim, a plaintiff must prove the usual elements of intent and falsity and also that consumers are confused as to a product's identity by the challenged actions of the defendant. Another issue in Lanham Act cases is whether the defendant's first amendment rights are limited by the requested injunction. Courts have not always been consistent in resolving this issue.

Any business that believes that a competitor has libeled the company or its products through false advertising or other means may have a claim for relief under the Lanham Act. A knowledgeable business attorney who handles intellectual property cases may be able to provide a helpful analysis of the law and facts that will determine the case and a useful estimate of the likelihood of achieving a favorable outcome.

Source: American Bar Association, "Explosion of Lanham Act Cases," Thomas S. Leatherbury, accessed on March 27, 2017

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