When people ask me how long a registered trademark is good for, my glib reply is often “How old is Mickey Mouse?” Unlike patents, which typically expire after 17 years or so, trademarks can be renewed every few years. How many times? Well each time the trademark on the name Mickey Mouse would have run out, Disney got the intellectual property laws changed so it could be renewed again and again – typically at 6 or 10 year intervals in USA.
Think about it. What would the Disney franchise be worth without its original figure head Mickey? Not to mention another host of characters like Minnie and Goofy, etc. Remember, to renew any trademark, you have to prove ongoing usage of that mark in trade of some kind. For Disney this is really easy as Mickey parades through Disney parks every evening. Along with a host of comic books, games, toys, movies and all sorts of other paraphernalia.
But you still have to have your lawyers do their due diligence worldwide. Mickey Mouse is the first trademark I have seen in a long time registered in Iceland. And not all countries allow so many renewals as the USA. So Disney waits till they expire (like in Brazil say) and promptly renews them manually.
As far as I can tell Mickey is now about 55 years old. Wow. He sure looks good for his age and still knows who his real family is thanks to trademark laws. Thanks Disney.
BIG NOTE: While registered trademarks are usually your surest way to protect a name or logo, it is not the only way. Do not assume that some name or brand can be infringed if they do not have the magic (R) by their name because they also have common law rights and these can be very powerful too. As our blog posts on great British brands show, trademarks can effectively live for ever if properly used and promoted.
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