What is a Trademark?

For many people who aren’t experts in matters concerning intellectual property, it can be difficult to keep up with the distinctions between different types. The three most common are patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Each type covers different subject matter; in this blog, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of trademarks, which are important for many business owners. 

USPTO Definition

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is the federal agency responsible for granting trademark registration, defines a trademark as “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”

So, in other words, trademarks are any visual aids that help consumers identify the source of products and services. This benefits both businesses and consumers. Businesses can build their brand recognition and goodwill by having their distinctive marks protected, and consumers don’t have to spend a great deal of time examining products to make sure they are purchasing what they wish to purchase. 

Real-Life Examples

Your mind barely has to think when it recognizes a shoe box displaying a large “swoosh.” You almost instinctively know that the box contains two shoes from Nike. Another widely recognized mark is the Golden Arches from McDonald’s. 

These brands did not achieve nearly universal recognition overnight. It took a great deal of time, effort, sweat equity, and smart business decisions to get to that place. Registering those trademarks with the USPTO was instrumental for both brands, as it gave them nationwide protections for the marks. 

What Makes a Good Trademark?

The USPTO recognizes “distinctive” marks that contain “arbitrary” and “fanciful” elements as those most deserving of federal protections. This means that your distinctive mark should create no doubt in the consumers’ minds as to the source of your products and services. 

To illustrate this, let’s say you own a sandwich shop. You name your eatery “Hot and Cold Sammies.” This is an okay name for a business, as it lets potential customers know what they can expect when they look at your menu, but it will not likely be a great candidate for registration with the USPTO. Why? Because it merely describes your products (sandwiches). On the other hand, a name for your sandwich shop brand that might meet the distinctive standard is “Yanni’s Hub.” It has no obvious connection to your products, so it is more likely to receive federal trademark registration. 

Do You Have to Register Your Trademarks?

Unlike many other jurisdictions, the U.S. does not require trademark owners to formally register their marks. It is still a good idea, however, to apply for federal registration. Without it, you do not have as strong a case in court for infringement as you would otherwise. 

Alvarez Law Group has extensive experience helping entrepreneurs understand their intellectual property needs so they can secure long-term success for their businesses. Trademarks are often important in accomplishing this, but the best way to find out for sure is by sitting down with our team and coming up with a game plan. Call us at (786) 620-2820 to set up a consultation.

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