Wondering if a trademark is important to you as a business owner? Let’s start with the basics. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or logo that distinguishes and identifies the source of goods of one company or person from another. For example, the name Kraft is trademarked, as is Nike’s “swoosh” logo.
The list of what constitutes a trademark is long. A trademark can also be granted to unique packaging such as the shape of Coca-cola’s bottle, building designs, color, sound, and even fragrance. Service marks receive the same legal protection, but are used to distinguish services instead of products.
Your business can acquire trade or service marks through the consistent use of a mark. The symbols TM and SM demonstrate the owner treats the mark as a trademark or service mark. There is no requirement to federally register at the trademark office. You are still protected under intellectual property laws. However, if another party uses your mark it can be more difficult to prove your ownership.
To register online with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), go to www.uspto.gov There is a registration fee for each name, logo, and slogan. Federal registration ensures another party is not already using your mark. A registered trademark gives you exclusive rights to use a mark with your particular goods or services. The USPTO can only register trademarks for marks that are used across state lines. A website customers can access in other areas can satisfy this requirement. Otherwise, you will only be able to apply for a state trademark.
Only a mark registered and approved by the USPTO can use the ® symbol. Since the application process can take many months to complete, use the TM or SM symbol in the meantime to establish your intention to use the mark as a trademark. Make sure you keep records as to when your mark was first used in commerce and regulate the use of your mark in the marketplace.