Thinking about trade marking your product? Wondering if it's necessary and how to go about it?

We asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to help us understand the basics.

We know: 1-Minute Lesson on Trademarks

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

Is a trademark the same as a patent or a copyright?

No. Trademarks, copyrights and patents help protect different things. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

Do I have to register my trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office?

No. You can establish rights in a mark based on legitimate use of the mark. Even without a registration, you may still use any mark adopted to identify the source of your goods and/or services.

However, owning a federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides several advantages.

Where do I register my trademark and what does it mean?

You register a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The office reviews trademark applications for federal registration and determines whether an applicant meets the requirements for federal registration. The Office does not decide whether you have the right to use a mark (which differs from the right to register).

What are the advantages of registering the trade mark with the federal government?

By registering your trademark on the government’s Principal Register, you help provide:

  • constructive notice to the public of your claim of ownership of the mark
  • a legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide
  • the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court
  • the use of the U.S registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries
  • the ability to file the U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods

When can I use the trademark symbols TM, SM and ®?

Any time you claim rights in a mark, you may use the "TM" (trademark) or "SM" (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

However, you may use the federal registration symbol "®" only after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending. Also, you may use the registration symbol with the mark only on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the federal trademark registration.

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