Understanding the Basics of Trademark Law
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
What is trademark law?
Trademark law helps businesses protect their names, logos, and slogans. A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or device that identifies and distinguishes the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for approving submitted trademarks.
Are Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents the Same?
No. Copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as books, music, and artwork. Patents protect inventions or discoveries. Trademarks are used to distinguish the goods of one manufacturer from another and include brand names, slogans, and logos.
For example, if you develop a new type of leaf blower, you would file for a patent to protect the innovation. You would seek trademark registration to safeguard your company's brand name, and if you filmed a television commercial, you would copyright it.
How do trademark rights work?
Trademarked words, symbols, or phrases become the property of their owner, who can control how they are used. The trademark owner has the right to sue and recover damages from a person or business that infringes on their trademark. This means that an unauthorized party cannot use the same or a similar mark for the same type of good/service if it is likely to cause confusion. The owner can also obtain court orders to stop the infringing activity and force the infringer to give up any profits derived from the use of the mark.
What does trademark infringement mean?
Trademark infringement occurs when a trademarked name or image is used by someone other than the trademark owner. Suppose that the trademark owner discovers the use of their trademark by another party. In that case, they have the right to take action against that party and demand compensation for damages incurred due to the trademark's use without permission.
A trademark must be distinguished from other words to infringe upon another business's trademark rights. An easy way to remember this distinction is to think about trademarks as brands: each company brands its products with a name, symbol, color scheme, etc., to confuse buyers as to which product is theirs. If a trademarked name is misused, then trademark infringement has occurred.
How do you register a trademark?
Sections 1 and 2 of the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act) establish when you can claim that your mark is in use and how to register it. When you are the first to use a term or image for goods/services, you automatically get protection against other users in the geographic area where you use the mark. However, if you want protection beyond your local area, you must produce evidence of nationwide/worldwide use of your mark for those goods or services. You must file an application and pay a fee with the USPTO to secure federal registration of your trademark.
Trademark registration is not required but offers trademark owners certain legal advantages. Once the USPTO approves your mark, you own all rights to that mark and become the only business authorized to use it for those goods/services. Once a mark is registered with the USPTO, it gives you presumptive ownership of the mark nationwide, and you have the exclusive right to use it for those identified goods or services. In addition, registration allows you to record your trademark with U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which can block imports of counterfeit and infringing articles from entering the United States.
Are trademark registrations public records?
Yes, trademark filings are made public by the trademark office so that others may learn of trademarked names for products or services they may wish to use. Making trademarks a public record helps maintain a level playing field among businesses who otherwise might seek to exploit another company's trademarked name unfairly.
Trademark law is a powerful tool for protecting your company's name and logo. It can provide consumers with the assurance that they are buying from you, even though their eyes may not be able to see it on your goods or packaging. Take advantage of this protection by registering your trademark today!
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