Posted Sep 1st 2014 2:00PM
Why has Toyota applied to trademark "Supra," the name of one of its legendary sports cars, even though it hasn't sold one in the United States in 16 years? Why would General Motors continue to register "Chevelle" long after one of the most famous American muscle cars hit the end of the road? And what could Chrysler possibly do with the rights to "313," the area code for Detroit?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a treasure trove for auto enthusiasts, especially those who double as conspiracy theorists.
There are a lot of possible answers to these questions, since automakers apply for trademarks for a variety of reasons. While a filing can be the first sign of a new model – or the return of an old favourite – moving to secure a trademark can just as easily be a smoke signal. Frequently, it's just a routine legal procedure to maintain rights to a famous name so it can be used on t-shirts and coffee mugs.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a treasure trove for auto enthusiasts, especially those who double as conspiracy theorists. Though there's strong circumstantial evidence Toyota may in fact be working on a Supra-successor, for now the name is simply a filing that's weaving its way through the federal bureaucracy. Toyota has let the Supra trademark lapse in the past before reapplying for it. On the other hand, if anyone had been looking closely on May 27, 2010, they would have seen Toyota filed for the FR-S trademark. It meant nothing then, but four years later those three letters are the calling card for one of the purest driver's cars on the market.
Filing for a trademark can be a delicate maneuver. It's a public act, and the records are accessible to anyone. But, companies don't want to wait too long and risk losing a potential name. An early filing can give a firm a "priority date," which can be used as a defense should a mark be contested, said Christine Lofgren, Toyota's trademark lawyer.
Once a company gets rights to a mark, it then has to demonstrate use. That can be accomplished by actually building a car using the trademarked name, or at least using it on replacement parts. Even used cars can show use of a name. Automakers can also trademark a name specifically for use on clothing, accessories or toys.