A trademark can be any distinctive sign or indicator used by a business (or other legal entity) to identify its products, and to distinguish them from those of competitors. When a trademark is used in relation to services rather than products, it is sometimes called a service mark.
A trademark is noted by the following symbols:
- ® (Registered trademark)
- ™ (Unregistered trade mark)
- ℠ (Unregistered service mark)
A trademark can be a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image, or a combination of these. Once registered, the owner of a trademark may initiate legal proceedings against any unauthorized use (known as trademark infringement).
The registration process entails several steps prior to a trademark receiving its Certificate of Registration:
1.) Business files an application with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to register their trademark(s).
2.) A patent attorney reviews the application to make sure it complies with all requirements, and that the mark is not likely to cause confusion with a pre-existing trademark. If issues are found, the USPTO will require the applicant to address them before registration can be completed.
3.) The trademark application is published for opposition. During this 30-day period, third parties may file an Opposition Proceeding to stop the registration. In such a proceeding, the case is brought before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to determine if there is validity to the opposition’s claim.
4.) Provided that no third-party opposes registration during the opposition period, or any opposition is decided in the applicant’s favor, the trademark is registered as the property of the applying business.
Before submitting an application, applicants should search the USPTO database to determine whether another entity already claims trademark rights on your intended brand or logo (or something very similar). Failure to conduct a proper search could cause your business to suffer wasted time and effort if your intended trademark is already in use.