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Trademarks 101

What is a trademark?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as a word, phrase, symbol, sound, logo, or design, or a combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

A registered trademark with the USPTO serves as public notice that its owner has exclusive rights to use the mark in the territory of the United States (US). Trademark registration often deters others from using a mark that is identical or similar.

Trademark registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is federal registration and provides protection to your trademark in all US states. Alternatively, you can file for a trademark in individual states.

That’s a lot of legal language that can be difficult to understand. We think Abida Sultana does a really good job breaking down trademarks into “easy-to-understand” ideas. Check out their article here.

What can I trademark? What is my "brand"?

You can trademark your company “brand”. You can’t trademark a name, slogan, and/or logo that is not identifiable as your “brand”. Your company name, slogan, and/or logo can be a trademark ONLY if it is used in the trading of your goods and services to identify your goods and/or services.

If you want to trademark something that doesn't appear on your products/packaging as your "brand", then it’s really not a trademark (at least not for your customers). To make this mark a trademark, it has to be clearly and prominently shown on your products/packaging and must be clearly identified as your brand to your customers. Your brand should be something that makes your goods and/or services easier to find in the future.

Common Misconceptions

There are a few common misconceptions that people have about trademarks. Some believe that owning a trademark means that other people can't use a particular word or phrase. This is not true. Trademark owners don't have rights to general words or phrases. If they did, we could no longer use the vast majority of the English language. Trademark owners only have rights to how a specific word or phrase is used with their specific goods and/or services.

Another common misconception is the idea that you can trademark words or phrases that simply define your goods or services. You can't do this either. Your trademark must be unique and used for easier identification of your specific goods and/or services. For more information about "descriptive" and "generic" marks, click here.

The USPTO also provides guidance on "what makes a strong trademark" that you can access here.

Does my trademark work in Europe or China?

State trademarks are only valid with the state they are registered in . US trademarks are also jurisdictional. If you file your trademark in the US, you will have protection only within the US. You don't need to be a US resident in order to register a trademark in the US. However, if you are not a US resident, you will need to be represented by a US attorney.

Why are trademarks important?

If you plan to grow your business, trademark registration can be an important move for your success. A registered trademark is a valuable asset and can be sold or licensed. Trademarks often increase the value of a company, grant owners rights, and provide brand protection.

(2) Important Questions to Ask When Determining if You Should File a Trademark Application with the USPTO:

Is it going to be a problem if....

  • you discover that your competitor has started using your business name, logo, or slogan to advertise their products and services?

  • you are forced to change your business name, logo, or slogan because somebody else already has an active trademark or files a trademark of your brand before you do?

If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, you may want to consider learning more about trademarks and the application process. If this is the case, check out the Daly Law trademark blogs for more information.


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