What is a trademark?
A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.
The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.
- Identifies the source of your goods or services.
- Provides legal protection for your brand.
- Helps you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.
A common misconception is that having a trademark means you legally own a particular word or phrase and can prevent others from using it. However, you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.
For example, let’s say you use a logo as a trademark for your small woodworking business to identify and distinguish your goods or services from others in the woodworking field. This doesn’t mean you can stop others from using a similar logo for non-woodworking related goods or services.
Another common misconception is believing that choosing a trademark that merely describes your goods or services is effective. Creative and unique trademarks are more effective and easier to protect. Read more about strong trademarks.
Owning a trademark vs. having a registered trademark
You become a trademark owner as soon as you start using your trademark with your goods or services. You establish rights in your trademark by using it, but those rights are limited, and they only apply to the geographic area in which you’re providing your goods or services. If you want stronger, nationwide rights, you’ll need to apply to register your trademark with us.
You’re not required to register your trademark. However, a registered trademark provides broader rights and protections than an unregistered one.
For example, you use a logo as a trademark for the handmade jewelry you sell at a local farmer’s market. As your business grows and you expand online, you might want more protection for your trademark and decide to apply for federal registration. Registering your trademark with us means that you create nationwide rights in your trademark.
Using the trademark symbols TM, SM, and ®
Every time you use your trademark, you can use a symbol with it. The symbol lets consumers and competitors know you’re claiming the trademark as yours. You can use “TM” for goods or “SM” for services even if you haven’t filed an application to register your trademark.
Once you register your trademark with us, use an ® with the trademark. You may use the registration symbol anywhere around the trademark, although most trademark owners use the symbol in a superscript or subscript manner to the right of the trademark. You may only use the registration symbol with the trademark for the goods or services listed in the federal trademark registration.
Trademark, patent, or copyright
Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are different types of intellectual property. The USPTO grants patents and registers trademarks. The U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress registers copyrights.
|What’s legally protected?||A word, phrase, design, or a combination that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of your goods or services.||Technical inventions, such as chemical compositions like pharmaceutical drugs, mechanical processes like complex machinery, or machine designs that are new, unique, and usable in some type of industry.||Artistic, literary, or intellectually created works, such as novels, music, movies, software code, photographs, and paintings that are original and exist in a tangible medium, such as paper, canvas, film, or digital format.|
|What’s an example?||Coca-Cola® for soft drinks||A new type of hybrid engine||Song lyrics to “Let It Go”|
|What are the benefits|
of federal protection?
|Protects the trademark from being registered by others without permission and helps you prevent others from using a trademark that is similar to yours with related goods or services.||Safeguards inventions and processes from other parties copying, making, using, or selling the invention without the inventor’s consent.||Protects your exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and perform or display the created work, and prevents other people from copying or exploiting the creation without the copyright holder’s permission.|
Trademark or brand
A brand is a marketing concept that encompasses how people feel about your product or service. Customers associate certain elements with different brands, such as reputation, image, and emotion. For example, a certain brand might have been developed to encourage you to feel confident, calm, or secure.
On the other hand, a federal trademark registration can provide nationwide legal protection for your brand in connection with particular goods or services. It is your choice whether to protect your brand under trademark law. Many business owners choose to protect their brand names for their main or dominant goods or services. You might also choose to protect a slogan or logo for those goods or services, if you have one.
Deciding what you want to protect and to what extent is up to you. You can have a brand, but decide not to protect that brand by registering it as a trademark. If you choose not to register your brand as a trademark, however, anyone could misuse your brand or create a brand so similar to yours that people can’t tell the difference between them. So, even if consumers want to purchase your products or services because they trust your brand’s reputation, that customer might purchase someone else’s by mistake because they can’t tell the difference between the trademarks.
DISCLAIMER: References to particular trademarks, service marks, certification marks, products, services, companies, or organizations appearing on this page are for illustrative and educational purposes only and do not constitute or imply endorsement by the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or any other federal agency.