As any business person should know, ownership and usage of your company’s name and logo is a very valuable asset. Many marketing dollars of businesses of every size are spent to assure that potential customers recognize and remember that the company exists and that customers know what you do and how to reach you. The goal is to “imprint” the name of your business or logo on potential customers’ minds such that, when they think of whatever your product is, they think of your business. This is partially achieved through advertising, and it is not cheap.
Since so much effort and so many dollars are invested in “branding,” it is very important that any business have the legal means to protect its trade names and trademarks from unscrupulous businesses that may try to confuse or mislead the public into thinking that they are in fact your company and to thereby “steal” your company’s customers. That is why both federal and state governments have enacted laws and regulations to provide this necessary protection of trade names, trademarks, and service marks.
The legal protection of marks and trade names is available on both the federal and state level. Under which laws you proceed to avail yourself of this protection depends on the location of your business, the size, and geographic extent of your potential market and perhaps other factors.
On the federal level, trademark laws are administered by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO provides a substantial amount of information on its website at www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/definitions.jsp. The USPTO defines and explains the differences between a “trademark,” a “patent,” and a “copyright” as follows:
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
Must all marks be registered? No, but federal registration has several advantages, including a notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.
A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.
A copyright protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed.
The ® symbol or the letters “TM” or “SM” are used only for trademarks or service marks, registered, or unregistered. According to the USPTO, “Any time you claim rights in a mark, you may use the “TM” (trademark) or “SM” (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO. However, you may use the federal registration symbol “®” only after the USPTO actually registers a mark and not while an application is pending. Also, you may use the registration symbol with the mark only on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the federal trademark registration.”
The rights and protections conferred by the various designations are different and may be augmented or even replaced by appropriate state registrations. The lawyers at Law 4 Small Business are experienced experts in protecting your trade names, trademarks logos, and other intangible assets. We would be happy to assist you in deciding how to proceed and in securing the appropriate protection.