Attorney at Law

Trademark Basics FAQ

Lia Kopin-Green
November 8, 2022
Last reviewed by
Boruch Burnham, Esq.
May 22, 2023

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?

trademark is defined as a recognizable symbol, image, phrase, or word that identifies a product and legally distinguishes it from similar ones. Trademarks distinguish a product as belonging exclusively to a specific company and legally protect a company’s brand.

What is a service mark?

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 marks 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 others 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 the products and services of members from those of non-members. A typical 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?

 A trademark may be entitled to certain limited protections even if they are not registered.  Specifically, common law trademarks may provide the owner of the intellectual property automatic protection for product names, logos, and symbols within the geographical area where the mark is established and used. Unregistered trademarks are often marked with the ™ symbol.

That said, federal trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is highly recommended in almost every situation. Registering your trademark with the USPTO  provides more robust protections, allowing you to use the ® symbol and defend your IP 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 essential details and information about the trademark, such as:

  • A short description of your trademark 
  • A description of the products or services associated with the mark
  • 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 attorney with extensive experience in practicing IP law 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 applications for trademarks that include generic names, clearly descriptive names, or deceptively misdescriptive information.

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