Trademark 101


What is a trademark?

A trademark (or service mark) is a unique identifier that signals to consumers the origin or source of the goods to which the trademark is attached. A trademark may be a word, symbol, container shape (known as trade dress), scent, or sound; nearly anything that could serve to indicate the source of the product. Owning a trademark entitles the trademark owner to prevent others from using a mark on products that might lead to consumer confusion as to the source of the product.

What is the process for obtaining a trademark?

In the U.S., trademark rights accrue when the mark has been used in commerce. Generally, selling goods under a certain brand name satisfies this standard.

What is a registered trademark?

To gain the status of a registered mark (denoted by the symbol ®), the trademark owner must file an application for registration that must be applied for with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Once the Patent & Trademark Office approves the application, the mark may become registered, which gives the mark owner several advantages.

Can I obtain a state registration?

Yes, states have the power to grant registered trademarks within the borders of that state (but the ® symbol is unique to federal registration). A state trademark does not entitle the owner to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks outside of the state in which the mark is registered.

Is federal registration better than state registration?

Generally, federal registration provides the trademark owner with more value than state registration provides. If the mark is federally registered, the owner has superior rights to use the mark anywhere in the U.S. where someone other than the registrant has not already used the mark. In other words, state registration is only good in the state where the mark is registered; federal registration is good throughout the U.S.