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Are digital products based on blockchain still subject to trademark law?

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2021 | Trademark Law

Symbols and designs can find solace in United States trademark laws, but new evolutions in assigning value may push ownership boundaries.

Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) are taking the internet by storm, netting values into the millions. But their new take on tagging ownership may not matter much when trademarks are on the line. From bidders at Christie’s auction house to those lining up in queues for NBA merchandise, understanding what ownership means may be as important as ever.

Assigning worth

Tied to a public ledger, numbers on a blockchain give items a unique identifier. Most commonly used for things like cryptocurrencies, more and more users are now assigning strings to digital commodities. These can also include  digital photos and videos.

But not just anyone can assign a number to a digital asset. The trend of linking things to the blockchain may be new, but it could still run afoul of trademarks that have existed for years. It’s unlikely that someone can suddenly claim ownership to a digital representation of someone else’s trademarked item and sell it on the blockchain.

Defining ownership

While an NFT may put value in owning something, that ownership is far from the definition levied by the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office.

Owners of a specific instance on the blockchain may claim a level of ownership, but the original owner of the trademark for the product in question likely retains legal rights. Selling a unique identifier generally transfers ownership of the identifier, not of the trademark in question.

It’s important in fluctuating times like these to make sure you have and maintain control of your trademark.