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What is a Trademark?

A trademark is defined as a recognizable symbol, image, phrase or word that identifies a product and legally distinguishes it from similar ones. Trademarks exclusively distinguish a product as belonging to a specific company and legally protect a company’s brand. Although trademarks do not need to be federally registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), doing so is highly recommended. Unregistered trademarks are generally marked with the ™ symbol, while registered trademarks are denoted by the ® symbol.

Key Takeaways

  • A trademark is a recognizable symbol, image, phrase or word that identifies a specific product and legally differentiates it from similar products.
  • Trademarks may or may not be federally registered. The ™ symbol indicates that a trademark is not registered. The ® is used to identify registered marks.
  • The owner of a trademark must regularly use the mark in order to legally enforce its protections.

Taking a Closer Look at Trademarks

Trademarks are one of the most common types of intellectual property in the United States, alongside patents and copyrights. Not only do these unique marks protect companies from infringement by competitors, but they also help consumers identify the source, owner or developer of a particular product or service.

According to U.S. intellectual property law, a business cannot use a trademark if it looks, sounds similar, has similar meaning to or is identical to an existing mark. This prevents other businesses from profiting off of a company or individual’s brand without their permission. Moreover, these laws minimize the chances that certain products or services will be confused with other products or services.

A trademark can take many forms. It could be a word, logo, sound, slogan, colors or even a fictional character. To better understand the true meaning of a trademark, here are a few common examples of trademarks in today’s world:

  • Disney’s fictional character “Mickey Mouse” 
  • The iconic light blue boxes of Tiffany and Co
  • McDonald’s slogan: “I’m lovin’ it”
  • The Nike “swoosh” symbol
  • Crockpot, the brand name for a popular slow cooker

Registering Trademarks

In the United States, federal registration of a trademark with the government is not required. In fact, thanks to common law trademark laws, limited trademark rights are granted automatically upon use. However, federal registration of a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is highly recommended. 

Common law trademark laws grant intellectual property rights in a particular region, so they are not ideal when it comes to long-term protection. With federal registration, you can designate your brand with the ® symbol, which is a powerful tool for warding off competitors. Federal trademark registration can also add value to your company’s net worth. If you are interested in registering your trademark, seek legal assistance for help with completing a trademark application.

Bottom Line

Trademarks play a major role in today’s society. In spite of this, trademarks are a complex subject in intellectual property law due to the multitude of laws and requirements associated with them. For this reason, consulting with an intellectual property law is advised when it comes to trademarks. Reach out to one of our top lawyers today for personalized expertise.

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