A trademark can be anything, such as a word, symbol, design, name or slogan (or a combination) that is used to identify your product or service as unique, distinguishing you from another entity that may sell similar products or services as yours. Having a specialized trademark that represents your business gives your company an identity all it’s own. While trademarks may help individualize your products, they are also extremely important in protecting them from duplication. Obtaining a trademark on a logo, for example, means that only you or your company are legally allowed to use it. Visit Trademark in SBA.com’s Legal Services page to get started.
Types of Trademarks
There are three different types of trademarks: service marks, certification marks and collective marks. Service marks are used to identify a service instead of a product, certification marks are words, names, symbols, devices or a combination there of that are used in commerce by employees to certify the origin of the product being sold. Lastly, collective marks are used by organizations with multiple members, such as a union, association or other organization.
The trademark symbol,™, and the registered trademark symbol, ®, denote a the status of the trademark in question. Any product or service bearing the trademark symbol is protected under common law, which does not require registration, only that you be the first to use whatever is trademarked. A registered trademark is one that has been registered formally with a government agency.
Registered trademarks provide more protection than those under common law. As they are registered with federal authorities, they are protected at a national level. If, for example, a trademark is only used in New York, it may only be protected in that state. A registered trademark also allows for more damages and puts your business in a better legal position to be awarded damages, as it provides a paper trail.
The Legal Process of Registering a Trademark
There is a legal process that must be undergone to establish a trademark. If no one else has the trademark or registering it, you can have legal papers declaring it as your own.
The first step to having a trademark registered for your business is to apply with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). During the process of approval, the USPTO will verify that no one else owns the trademark and that you’ll be using it for business purposes, and not simply just to own it. Acceptable usage of trademarks is for labeling on packages of goods and if for services, the trademark can be used during advertisements and invoicing. A trademark search is conducted to ensure that it hasn’t already been claimed and that no other applicants are filing for the same trademark. You can conduct this search on your own beforehand using the TESS database. Once in the clear, you will receive your registration records of your new business trademark.
Your trademark is only valid within the United States, unless you fill out a special application. If you are a qualified owner of an application that is pending with the USPTO or are already registered with the USPTO, you can seek to have your trademark registered overseas with an International Application. This application is available with the International Bureau of the World Property Intellectual Organization through the USPTO.