Trademark Basics FAQ

Lia Kopin-Green
November 8, 2022

New to the world of intellectual property? Confused about the difference between a trademark and a service mark? Not sure if you should federally register your mark? Check out some of the most frequently asked questions about trademarks below.

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.

What is a service mark?

A service mark is used to identify the provider of a service or services. This designation may appear in the form of a logo, phrase, tune, symbol or other similar form. The main difference between traditional trademarks and service masks is that trademarks are used to identify a company’s products while service marks are used when designating a company’s services. According to United States law, services are only legally considered services if they are performed for other people and are intangible.

What is a certification mark?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a certification mark is defined as “a type of trademark that is used to show consumers that particular goods and/or services, or their providers, have met certain standards.” Unlike traditional trademarks, certification marks are used by someone other than the owner to certify something about some products or services. For instance, a certification mark may indicate that a product originates in a particular geographical region.

What is a collective mark?

Collective marks are a type of trademark that identifies members of a collective group or organization. Members of the collective also use the collective mark to identify and distinguish products and services of members from those of non-members. A common example of a collective mark is Girl Scout cookie packages, since cookies with the Girl Scouts trademark can only be sold and advertised by members of the Girl Scouts.

Do I need to register my trademark?

Generally, trademarks do not need to be federally registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In fact, common law trademarks provide automatic protection for product names, logos and symbols in a particular geographical area. Unregistered trademarks are often marked with the ™ symbol.

Despite the above, federal trademark registration is highly recommended in almost every situation. Registering your trademark with the USPTO  ensures a trademark’s rights on a national level. It will also allow you to use the ® symbol and properly defend your brand against infringement on a national level.

How do I register a trademark?

You can apply for federal trademark registration through the USPTO website by completing an application and paying a registration fee. As part of the application process, you will need to provide important details and information about the trademark, such as:

  • A short description of your trademark 
  • A description of the products or services on which the mark will be used
  • The date when the trademark was first used in commerce
  • A drawing or image of the mark
  • A suggestion for the classification of the mark 

It can be quite challenging to federally register a trademark, but a skilled intellectual property attorney should be able to  assist you with the process.

How long does the trademark application process take?

According to the USPTO, the trademark application process is quite complex, making it difficult to estimate time scales. Some trademarks may be registered within a year, while others can take several years to be published. The USPTO website states that the average time from filing to completion is 9.5 months. A number of factors can affect this rate, such as the level of experience of the examiner reviewing the application and the quality and contents of the application.

Why was my trademark rejected?

Your trademark application may be rejected for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons for rejection involves procedural issues, such as problems or mistakes in the format of the application. Moreover, a trademark application could be rejected due to its content. Although there are a variety of factors the examiner may consider while they assess the application, the USPTO will typically reject trademarks that include generic names, clearly descriptive names or deceptively misdescriptive information.

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