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Trademark Law Research Guide

Getting Started Researching Trademark Law

Primary Law: Statutes (Federal)

The Constitution and Federal Statutes

The United States common law has protected trademarks under state common law since colonial times.  Congress did not attempt to establish a federal trademark protection mechanism until 1870.  It then attempted a second act that passed in 1876. These were declared unconstitutional by The Trade-Mark Cases 100 U.S. 82 (1879). The Trade-Mark Cases decision did not object to the laws of the states' common law trademark systems.  

Unlike patent law and copyright law, which originated from Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the Constitution, there is no provision in the Constitution authorizing Congress to specifically create a registry system for trademarks, even though the use of such marks to identify one's goods or products existed since antiquity.  Congress was finally able to create a legitimate trademark registration system in 1881 basing its authority upon Congress' Commerce Clause powers.  Current trademark law does not limit protection to a set time period. Marks only expire when owners stop using them in commerce.  

The latest complete revision of U.S. trademark law is:

The Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), 60 Stat. 427, 15 U.S.C. §§1051-1127 (2000), July 5, 1946, ch. 540, Pub. L. No.  79-489. There are amendments to this act, but not a complete revision.

The following are the major revisions of federal trademark law:

  • Trademark Act of 1870,16 Stat. 210.
  • Trademark Act of 1876, 19 Stat. 141.
  • Trademark Act of 1881, 21 Stat. 502.
  • Trademark Act of 1905, 33 Stat. 724.
  • Trademark Act of 1920, 41 Stat. 522.
  • The Lanham Act (1946), 60 Stat. 427.
  • The Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988, 102 Stat. 3935.           

Compiled Legislative Histories of U.S. Trademark Laws are available via HeinOnline's Intellectual Property Collection and the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, including, but not limited to:

  • Trademark Registration Act of 1946 (Lanham Act) (Public Law No. 79-489),  60 Stat. 427 (July 5, 1946).
  • The Legislative History of the 1950 Amendment to the Trademark Act of 1946 (Public Law No. 81-710), 64 Stat. 459 (Aug. 17, 1950).
  • The Legislative History of Amendments to the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), (Public Law No. 97-772), 76 Stat. 769 (Oct. 9, 1962).
  • The Trademark Law Revision Act of 1988, (Public Law No.100-667), 102 Stat. 3935 (Nov. 16, 1988).
  • Uruguay Round Agreements Act, (Public Law No. 103-465), 108 Stat. 4989 (Dec. 8, 1994).
  • The Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 (Public Law No. 104-98), 109 Stat. 985 (Jan. 16, 1996).
  • The Legislative History of the Trademark Remedy Clarification Act (Public Law No. 102-542) 106 Stat. 3567 (Oct. 27, 1992). 

The Federal Trademark Laws are codified at Title 15, Chapter 22 of the United States Code. 


See:  J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition (4th ed., 2015). Westlaw and  Frank I. Schecter, The Historical Foundations of the Law Relating to Trade-Marks (N.Y.: Columbia U. Press, 1925). Ebook: MOML.


Primary Law: Regulations (Federal)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is authorized by Congress (37 U.S.C. §2), and under the direction of the Secretary of Congress to promulgate "regulations not inconsistent with the law." governing the conduct of the Office. The USPTO regulations appear in Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  Within Title 37 there appear separate indexes for the Patent regulations and the Trademark regulations.  There is also a general CFR Index.  The trademark regulations are also searchable online in: Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, HeinOnline, and ProQuest Regulatory Insight, among other research databases. 


Primary Law: Selected Case Law

As has been mentioned, the first trademark law case brought before a United States federal court was in 1844.  It was Taylor v. Carpenter, 25 F. Cas. 742 (C. C. D. Mass. 1844).  

Treaties and Other International Agreements