Trademark Basics

What is a trademark?
Any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. The purpose of a trademark is to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace.

Read on for more on the basics of trademarks!


How is a trademark different from a copyright?
Unlike copyrights, which protect literary and artistic works, trademarks protect words, symbols, logos, and slogans used in commerce on goods and services. Whereas it is not possible to obtain copyright protection for a single word, it is possible to obtain trademark protection. Unlike copyrights, trademarks do not require originality. In order to obtain copyright protection, one need only express the work in a tangible form. In order to obtain trademark protection, however, the owner must use the mark in commerce.

What can be protected with a trademark?
You can protect names, such as your company name or product name, domain names, images, symbols, logos, slogans, colors, product designs and product packaging.

What benefits do I receive by registering my trademark?
Registering your trademark will help you prevent others from illegally using your mark. It allows you to sue in federal court, provides notice of your trademark and a legal presumption that you are the owner of the mark. Additionally, registering your mark will allow you to register your mark in foreign countries using certain filing systems and will give you a “priority date” for filing in the foreign country, meaning you may be able to use your earlier U.S. filing date.

How do I get trademark protection?
You will need to file an application with the Patent and Trademark Office. This application includes a statement of the applicant’s domicile and citizenship, the date of the applicant’s first use of the mark, the date of the applicant’s first use of the mark in commerce, the goods in connection with which the mark is used, and a drawing of the mark. The basic filing fee for a trademark application is $325.

What are the requirements to get trademark protection?
To receive trademark protection in the you must actually use your mark in commerce or have a bona fide intent to use your mark in commerce. If you wish to federally register your mark, as opposed to state registration, you must use your mark in interstate commerce. Interstate commerce involves sending your goods across state lines with the mark displayed on the goods themselves, or the packaging for the goods, or in the case of services, offering your services to those in another state or rendering a service that affects interstate commerce.

The mark may consist of any trademark, symbol, label, package, configuration of goods, name, word, slogan, phrase, surname, geographical name, numeral, device, any matter that, as a whole, is not functional, or any combination of any of the foregoing, but such mark must be capable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods or services. Certain words will not function as a trademark, such as the generic name of a good.

Where will my mark be protected?
If you file your trademark in the , it will only be protected in the Protection for trademarks only reaches to the borders of the country in which you filed. If you wish to receive protection in foreign countries, you will need to file for a foreign trademark. There is an exception, however, if your mark is famous or well-known in the area you are seeking protection.

What rights do I get with a trademark?
You have the exclusive right to use your trademark to identify your goods/services and to either authorize or prohibit others from using the same or similar mark, on the same or similar goods/services in order to prevent consumer confusion. If you are the owner of a famous or well-known mark, you may prevent the use of the same or similar mark on goods/services that do not complete with your product.

There are some exceptions when your trademark may be used by another, known as “fair uses” such as for product comparison, criticism, news reporting, and parody.

How long does a trademark last?
A trademark registration lasts for as long as you continuously use the trademark, so long as certain documentation is filed with the Patent and Trademark Office. Each registration remains in force for 10 years and is renewable for additional 10 year increments at the end of each period. The trademark must continue to be used in commerce, and the owner must file an affidavit with the Patent and Trademark Office, during the sixth year of the term, stating that the goods in connection with the trademark are in use, or if not in use, the special circumstances which excuse nonuse and the owner’s intention NOT to abandon the mark.

Where can I find more information on trademarks?
The following website has useful information regarding trademark protection: http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm.

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