What is a trademark?

“Do I need a trademark?” If this question has been on your mind, the answer is probably yes. “But what IS a trademark,” you may be wondering? The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) concisely identifies a trademark as “a brand used on goods and services.” Basically, that means any word, slogan, or logo used in commerce to identify the source of a product or service. This could look like:

  • Your business or product name
  • Your company logo
  • A catchy tagline you use to market your goods

This word, slogan, or design does not need to be registered with the USPTO to function as a trademark, BUT registration affords the trademark holder a variety of protections that simply using your trademark does not. Most significantly, “a legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.”

In other words, just using something in the market creates a trademark, but defending it is going to be much easier if you have the public notice and legal standing created by a federal trademark registration. You know the ® symbol? This denotes a trademark that has successfully secured registration with the USPTO and now enjoys the protections that registration offers. On the other hand, the ™ symbol indicates a trademark that is not yet registered – either a pending trademark registration or claim of common law rights.

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