Trademark Basics You Need to Know
Trademarks can be a phrase, symbol, word, design, or a combination of those elements that serve to identify your products and services. Trademarks are one of the main ways that people identify your business and distinguish you from your competitors. Trademark is a term that can be used to refer to both trademark and service mark. While the trademark refers to goods, a service mark refers to services.
In addition to being used as an identifier for your goods/services, it will also provide legal protection for your brand. Additionally, the trademark will help to keep your company safe from fraud and counterfeiting.
1. Trademarks and Registered Trademarks: What is the Difference?
One of the points of confusion surrounding trademarks is the difference between ™ or SM and ®. When you start to use your trademark with the goods or services you offer, you are essentially a trademark owner and could use the ™ or SM even if you haven’t applied for a registered trademark.
However, you will only have a limited amount of protection legally. They also only apply in the geographic area where you are providing the services or goods. Although you aren’t required to get the registered mark (®), it is generally a good idea. You will have stronger rights across the country when you register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The only time you are allowed to use the ® symbol is after you have received your registered trademark.
2. Why You Need Strong Trademarks
When developing your trademarks, you want them to be as strong as possible, and this ties in with branding. The trademarks need to identify your business for consumers. When you have a strong trademark, it is easier to see that your brand is unique. It also becomes easier to prevent other people and companies from using it without your permission. On the other hand, weak trademarks will be difficult to defend.
Some examples of strong options include fanciful, arbitrary, and suggestive trademarks. Let’s get a closer look at what each of these things means to see why they might be considered strong.
A fanciful trademark is an invented word. Consider some examples of this type of trademark, such as Xerox, Kodak, or Pepsi. They are words that wouldn’t mean anything without the company and brand’s products. If another company wanted to call itself Pepsi and start selling soda, it would be clear that they are infringing.
Arbitrary trademarks are words that do not have any association with the products or services sold. This can be considered a strong trademark because if someone else were to use the work to sell the same types of products, it would be seen as an infringement. Apple is a good example of this. The company doesn’t actually sell apples.
Suggestive trademarks are those that suggest some element of the goods or services. Examples of this type of trademark might be Netflix or Airbus, for example. When you see and hear the name, they suggest what the company offers.
Weak trademarks are descriptive of generic. You can’t describe what you offer without distinguishing the source of the goods. An example given by the USPTO would be “apple pie” for potpourri. This is a descriptive term, and the company couldn’t trademark the term apple pie, just like a company couldn’t trademark the descriptor “smooth”.
Generic trademarks aren’t true trademarks. They are simply the common names for the goods and services you sell. You can’t, for example, trademark “phone”, “hammer”, or “wheel” if those are the items you sell.
3. Benefits of Registering
When you choose to register your trademark with the USPTO, it comes with some nice benefits. First, you will have your trademark listed in their database of pending and registered marks. This database provides public notice if someone else is searching for similar trademarks they want to use. It will help to reduce the risk of someone else trying to file for a trademark that is too much like the one you have.
When registered, there is the legal presumption that you own the trademark and can use it. It can prove ownership. The registration also provides you with the right to file a trademark lawsuit in federal court if needed. As mentioned, it also provides you with the right to use the ® symbol. The use of this symbol will often deter people from trying to use your trademark or one that is similar.
4. Search for Conflicting Trademarks
Sometimes, applications for trademarks are rejected because they are too similar to trademarks that are already registered. There would be a risk that it might be too similar to another one and that it could create confusion in the marketplace. You will naturally want to avoid the time and cost of rejected applications. Therefore, when you are going to register a trademark, it makes sense to spend some time on researching registered trademarks. You don’t want to start branding and focusing on a trademark that you will not be able to use.
5. How Long Does It Take?
One of the common questions that many people have about registering their trademarks is just how long they will have to wait. It can vary from case to case. However, the rule of thumb is that it will generally take between 12 and 18 months. It could take up to six months before anyone at the USPTO can fully review the application, and it will still need to go through several stages before it is accepted or rejected. During that time, you can use the ™ for your trademarks.
6. Common Myth About Trademarks
One of the mistaken beliefs that some people have when it comes to trademarks is that the mark means that you legally own certain words or phrases. That is not the case. You can’t have rights to a word or phrase, but only how that word or phrase is used with your services or goods. You couldn’t stop someone from using a similar logo or phrase for goods or services that are not in your field, for example.