What is a trademark?

A trademark is a symbol that identifies the source or something you sell—a good or a service.  Trademarks give the owner the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with the goods or services listed in the registration.

What types of symbols can be trademarked?

Any symbol that can act as a source indicator.  That includes words, phrases, logos, shapes, letters, sounds, product packaging, and even colors.  Non-traditional trademarks may require additional proof of distinctiveness.

Will a trademark registration automatically protect me against any use of the mark?

No. One of the primary purposes of trademark law is to prevent consumers from being confused as to the origin of specific goods. If there’s no likelihood of confusion, there’s typically no infringement. For example, if you have a registered mark for a skin care product, someone may be able to use the same word or phrase for a guitar or barbeque tool, as there’s little risk that someone will think the skin care product and the guitar come from the same source.

What are the requirements to qualify for trademark protection?

Distinctiveness and commercial use.  A trademark isn’t distinctive if it’s confusingly similar to another mark or merely describes the goods/services.  Some trademarks are considered to be “inherently distinctive,” meaning that the terms are so unique that there’s either no similar mark or no likelihood of confusion. Inherently distinct marks are often made-up words. For more commonly recognized symbols, though, you can still obtain a trademark if you can show that the mark has taken on “secondary meaning.” That occurs when you can show that, when people see or hear your mark, they think of your product or company. Secondary meaning is usually accomplished through extensive advertising and branding efforts.

A trademark also has to be in use commercially before exclusive rights are available.  Fear not, the USPTO will let you file an intent to use application if you’re not there yet.  You’ll need to show commercial use before the application is finalized though.

How long will a trademark protect me?

Potentially forever.  Federal trademark protection carries a 10-year term, but may be renewed indefinitely so long as you’re using the mark commercially.  Renewals are due at after year 5, year 10, and then every 10 years.

Contact BLPLLC for Straightforward Legal Counsel on Trademarks

At BLPLLC, we have more than 20 years of experience handling all matters related to the registration of trademarks and service marks. We know how to quickly determine whether your proposed mark meets the requirements for registration, and can help you develop marks that offer long-term protection.