Overview: U.S. Patent, Trademark, and Copyright

American trademarks are legally protected: 

  • Words
  • Slogans
  • Images 

The above are used to represent a business or an aspect of a business. These trademarks are usually denoted by the letters SM or TM next to the phrase or symbol in question. What's more, after registering your trademark in the United States, you can seek international protection through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). If your trademark has been infringed upon by an international company, you can report this violation to the U.S. Customs to prevent the company's products from being imported into the U.S.

In contrast, copyright is defined as the constitutional protection for original works of art, including:

  • Plays
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Novels
  • Computer codes. 

Nevertheless, copyright does not prevent others from using the ideas expressed in a specific work, but it does protect the means of expressing such ideas. Keep in mind that your trademark may receive foreign protection in certain countries that have a good relationship with the U.S. Copyright Office. 

A patent provides intellectual property protection for an invention or a discovery. Patenting prevents others from stealing your invention. However, the department that oversees American patents do not offer international protection. Instead, you have to file a separate patent application in each country where you want your invention to be protected. You can also complete the Patent Cooperation Treaty application through WIPO, which facilitates protection in several foreign territories. Because patent requirements, costs, and protections vary by country, you should work with an experienced patent attorney who is an expert on international patent laws.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The USPTO is the federal department responsible for granting patent and trademark rights in the U.S. They work based on the Constitution, which states that the legislative branch of the government should help inventors secure exclusive rights to their creations to facilitate scientific progress. This system of intellectual protection has contributed significantly to the growth of the American industry by helping to create new products, invent new uses for existing products, and generate millions of employment opportunities. Consequently, having mechanisms in place to protect intellectual properties supports a robust national economy.

Further to this, the USPTO  advises the president, the secretary of commerce, and other federal agencies on intellectual property (IP), while also promoting effective international IP protection policies. 

Is a U.S. Registered Trademark Protected in Other Countries?

Trademark protection in the United States only protects your trademark from being used by individuals/businesses in the U.S. However, if you've already registered your trademark in the U.S., filing an international application with the WIPO allows you to seek trademark registration in countries covered by the Madrid Protocol. This agreement covers 92 countries as of 2014; you can learn more about this process at the USPTO website.

Recommendations and Information About Trademark Registration in the United States

In the U.S., the first person to use a trademark commercially has special rights over that mark. Nonetheless, federal trademark registration is still recommended to have total control over a mark. This action prevents a third party from registering your trademark, which will result in an expensive and drawn-out legal battle to prove your ownership of the trademark rights. In addition, registered U.S. trademarks are also recognized in certain territories, including Puerto Rico, the American Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. Oddly enough, another person could still register the same trademark in Puerto Rico.

When registering a trademark or when trying to keep its registration current, you'll need to show evidence of its continued use in commerce. Note that when trademarking a logo, providing the file in black and white allows you the exclusive right to use it in any color. If you provide a file in color, you will only have the exclusive rights to that specific color combination. Also, trademarks that combine words and symbols can only be protected when used in the exact arrangement presented in the trademark application. You'll have to register each element of the trademark separately if you plan to use them individually in the future. However, even if you skip this step, you can still file an action against infringement in court if another company uses a trademark that could confuse the marketplace.

If you need help with trademark registration, just post your legal need in UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel is one of a kind because it only admits the top 5 percent of American lawyers to its site. In fact, lawyers on UpCounsel come from Harvard Law, Yale Law, and other remarkable law schools. Also, on average, UpCounsel's lawyers have 14 years of legal experience, including working with or on behalf of powerful companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.