Understanding Trademarks: The Guide
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is defined as follows.
“A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
Very similarly, a service mark is defined as given below:
“A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.”
What a trademark does is protect the good or service that is provided by a particular company from any infringement or damage of reputation that could be caused by another company. A trademark ensures that there is legal recourse available in case any other company attempts to use your likeness in order to support their business ventures. This is true regardless of whether the trademark is registered or unregistered.
In this article, the word trademark encompasses trademarks and service marks.
Even when a trademark has not been registered through the USPTO, it is still protected. In this case, it is known as a ‘common law’ trademark. This is something that can be used for small geographical locations. However, this cannot translate nationally, because it is possible for different companies across the country to have similar logos or names.
By using a trademark without registering it, there is protection via common law. However, it is better to opt for a trademark by registration because more protection is offered.
Registering a trademark ensures the following:
- A notice given to the public about the trademark
- The right to use to the trademark across the nation when distributing goods or services becomes exclusive
- One can bring legal action in federal court in case of infringement
- It becomes possible to obtain a trademark even in foreign countries
- It is possible to file with US Customs and therefore, prevent mock goods from being imported into the country
Sometimes, trademarks and trade names are used interchangeably. However, this is incorrect. A trade name is nothing but the name of the business. It is the trademark that goes beyond the name and identifies the brand name of the company. It is possible for the trade name and the trademark to be the same, but the terms themselves are interchangeable.
Since trademarks prevent infringement, having a trademark that is easy to identify, defines the business, and adds value to the brand. A specific and iconic trademark is the best way to go. Having a vague name or logo is not only bad for marketing, but also may not be eligible to even be a trademark.
Companies must keep certain things in mind when considering trademarks. For instance, two businesses in different industries can use the same trademark. It only qualifies as infringement if the businesses operate in the same industry. Furthermore, a state trademark only protects you within a state, not the entire country. Finally, a trademarked good in the US does not protect your trademark in any other country. You must apply for a trademark in every country where you do business.
Once you have registered a trademark, it also becomes your responsibility to protect it. Companies must always be vigilant about other companies that could be using the same trademark. Turning a trademark or the company name into a verb can pose a risk. Use the logo of trademark (™) or service mark (SM) to clearly show your claim to the name. Find ways to distinguish your logo from others by using different styles or fonts.
The effectiveness of the trademark is also retained when the company does not stray away from the style. This is useful for brand recognition.
Trademarks do not cost a business too much. Every five and ten years, they can be renewed for a few hundred dollars. After five years, a company can also apply to have the trademark be ‘uncontestable’. If this application is granted, other companies will find it harder to defend themselves against your company in court.
At MDE patents, we are committed to ensuring that the process to register for your trademark is as smooth as possible. Contact us today!
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