A trademark can consist of words, names, or symbols used to uniquely identify a source of goods. Trademark rights arise when the designation is first used in commerce linked to goods or services to indicate the source. Trademark law gives the owner the right to stop others from using a similar mark in connection with similar goods or services if such use would be likely to cause confusion in the marketplace.
Trademarks can be licensed. Trademarks are often licensed in connection with franchises, such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Where a trademark is licensed, an owner must take efforts to police the use of the mark so as not to lose right to the mark. This normally takes the form of retaining control over the quality of the goods or services that the licensee provides under the trademark. Accordingly, it is important for the trademark owner to include strong quality control provisions in any license agreement.
In the game industry, a trademark can similarly be licensed to another company to produce game-related products. One example is Blizzard’s the World of Warcraft computer game trademark. Blizzard licenses its trademark to other companies to sell related products such as card games, figurines, and stuffed animals. Necessarily, Blizzard carefully monitors the use of its licensed trademark to assure the quality is maintained for the goods being produced, so as not to negatively impact the value of its trademark.
Besides being licensed, a trademark can also be assigned so as to transfer all rights to the mark to a new owner. By definition, an “assignment” is the transfer of all of the rights to another. In contrast, a license is the transfer of only limited rights to use a mark for a limited time.