A new website has launched whose purpose is to connect potential buyers and sellers of trademarks. Trademarks are words, signs or symbols used by businesses as a source identifier of goods and and services. Trademarks are valuable not only for the consumer goodwill they engender (see, MCDONALD’S, GOOGLE, BMW, HBO), but also as a barrier to market entry of similar products (or services) with confusingly similar trademarks.
According to its press release:
USTrademarkExchange.com was launched earlier this month as a dedicated trademark sales portal . . . Owners can list and promote their registered trademarks, while potential buyers including investors can easily search through a variety of available trademarks in one location.”
Sounds like a great idea, right? Hmmm, not so fast. There are a few basic, but important concepts worth noting. When a trademark is assigned (ownership transferred) from one party to another, the purchasor generally succeeds to all of the previous owner’s rights (e.g., dates of first use, etc.). However, a maxim of trademark law states a valid trademark assignment must include the goodwill of the business. What is goodwill?
A trademark stands for a certain standard of quality. The mark symbolized that level of quality that the public has come to associate with the products bearing the mark. That said, an assignee (or purchasor) of a trademark must be sure she has the implements necessary to maintain this quality. If she does not, the trademark becomes separated from its goodwill. When goodwill does not accompany the mark, the assignment may be called an assignment in gross or a naked assignment. Generally speaking, an assignment without goodwill is invalid.
It is too soon to tell how USTrademarkExchange.com intends to handle its trademark assignments and how potential buyers and sellers will see the benefits of their respective bargains. Like many things in life, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to assigning or purchasing trademarks, conferring with competent trademark counsel is always a good bet.