When covering the latest automotive news, trademarks are a thorny subject because there's always a gamble about whether or not an automaker is ever actually going to use the word or phrase it trademarks. The action of trademarking is far from a guarantee that a company has something on the way. Here's what you need to know to be savvier when this news happens.
First, it's worth understanding what a trademark is. It's a type of intellectual property where an individual or business registers to be the only entity capable of using a word, phrase, or logo in the marketplace for a particular class of goods. The protection only applies to certain categories of things identified in the particular trademark registration, which is why Schick can have Quattro razor blades and Audi can sell the Quattro all-wheel-drive system without any legal issues.
The action of trademarking is far from a guarantee that a company has something on the way.
Each country (and certain regions in a case like the European Union) has a separate trademark office, so if a company intends to sell the product there, then it needs to file the paperwork in each place.
Branding is very important, particularly in the auto industry, because it's impossible to sell a product without having a name for the thing. So, journalists like us constantly keep an eye on places like the United States Patent and Trademark Office and World Intellectual Property Organization for new filings from automakers.
These registrations can be the earliest hint about what a company is planning. For example, Ford protected the term Maverick long before any official confirmation of its upcoming compact unibody pickup.
Automakers continually renew an unused trademark in order not to lose it.
Another vital thing to know is that initial intent-to-use trademark registrations are a use-them-or-lose-them concept. In the US, the owner has six months from getting initial approval to begin using the word or logo. This leads to a situation where automakers continually renew an unused trademark in order not to lose it. The United States Patent and Trademark Office can give up to five 6-month extensions of an intent-to-use trademark application.
After three years of unuse, the holder may lose the trademark and be required to file a new trademark. A perfect example of this is FCA (now Stellantis) guarding the 'Cuda moniker. The company keeps renewing its right to the name, like in 2017 and again in 2020.
This also recently affected the Toyota Celica. After the model went away, the automaker lost the trademark to the name in 2016 because it was no longer in use. The company held off on re-filing for the moniker until 2017. When the protection expired the next time, the business had actually already filed to guard the branding again.
When we see an automaker re-filing for the same trademark multiple times over many years, it's a clear sign to us that an automaker may be simply sitting on the name to guard the moniker, rather than intending to bring the name back to market on a new product. Nothing is impossible, but we don't expect the 'Cuda or Celica to return to dealerships anytime soon.