Patent Update: Patents Expire, But Trademarks Can Last Forever | AIChE

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Patent Update: Patents Expire, But Trademarks Can Last Forever

Patent Update

Kerosene is a generic term for a light fuel oil today. But in 1854, “Kerosene” was a registered trademark owned by Abraham Gesner, and only the North American Gas Light Co. and the Downer Co. were allowed to call their lamp oil kerosene (Figure 1). Gesner also obtained a patent in 1850 for his method of distilling kerosene from bitumen, which, being free of sulfur and nitrogen, was more suitable for illumination in lamps. Back then, patents had a 21-year term.

Kerosene is a trademark

Figure 1. Kerosene is an example of a trademark that became genericized. Image courtesy of Historic New England.

Although kerosene eventually became generic (and thus no longer protectable as a trademark), the story of kerosene did not have to end that way. When properly maintained and protected, trademarks can last forever.

While patents look to promote innovation by encouraging inventors to disclose their innovations for a limited monopoly, a primary purpose of trademarks is to protect consumers. Trademarks encourage manufacturers to consistently make quality products, communicate a...

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