The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
One obvious item to trademark is a logo. Once used in connection with a product, a logo can be registered as a trademark. The patent office reviews trademark applications for federal registration. Trademark registration is not required to use a mark to identify the source of goods and/or services. The TM (trademark) designation may be used to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed a trademark application. However, the federal registration symbol ® may be used only after the patent office registers a trademark.
While business owners historically retained attorneys to register trademarks, it is not uncommon today to navigate the process without attorney assistance through the Internet. Filing fees vary. More information is at www.uspto.gov.
Federal registration affords additional rights once the trademark is used in commerce. Such rights include:
•Constructive notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of trademark ownership.
•Legal presumption of the registrant’s ownership of the mark and exclusive right to use the mark in connection with the listed goods and/or services.
•The ability to bring a legal action concerning the mark.
•Use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries and to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.
Once a registration issues, it is up to the trademark owner to enforce its rights. Enforcement of intellectual property rights is a complex area of the law, and pursuing trademark infringement can be costly.
So why go to the effort and expense of registering a trademark? Many people believe that the registration itself serves as a deterrent and consequently helps to secure use for the rightful owner. Additionally, registered trademarks are often referred to as hidden assets, which can add value to a business.