trademarks serve the primary function of identifying a particular product or service in the marketplace. If an owner allows others to use its trademark without restriction, the mark will no longer serve as a meaningful indicator of a particular product’s or service’s origin. If this occurs, the mark can be considered abandoned. For instance, if a fast food hamburger chain allows its franchise operators to have complete discretion as to the food, decor, and type of service they offer under the company logo, the logo quickly loses its ability to indicate a particular type of food service. In this situation, the logo can be abandoned—it no longer serves its original function of product or service identification—and anyone will be free to use it.
The way that McDonald’s controls its marks exemplifies the type of vigilance over the product or service that is necessary to avoid the possibility of abandonment. This company uses its service mark not only to distinguish its service from its competitors generally but also to call to a consumer’s mind such characteristics as a specific level of service, a specific type of meal at a specific price, and a specific level of cleanliness. It does this by requiring every owner of a McDonald’s franchise to operate the franchise under tight rules and restrictions, designed to ensure that the characteristics associated with the McDonald’s mark are always present. Without such restrictions, the McDonald’s mark soon would stand for nothing; a McDonald’s franchise operation would cease to provide the consumer with meaningful information about its products based on its usage of the McDonald’s mark.
Another aspect of controlling your mark is to police its use by others. Even if you don’t particularly care whether others use your mark, your failure to assert your exclusive ownership rights means that the mark may be considered abandoned. This is why you should monitor your trademark.