A Company Trademark: What Is It?

A company trademark is a unique identifier applied to the goods or services offered by that business. McDonald's golden arches, the Starbucks logo, and the Coca-Cola shield are good examples of trademarks. The purpose of a trademark is to make it easy for the consumer to identify the products they're looking for, thereby building brand loyalty. The legal protection afforded by a trademark keeps others from selling inferior products under your brand. The laws also protect the consumer by ensuring the buyer gets what he expects when he shops for a given trademark. A trademark can be a symbol, text, slogan, or some combination of those things.  

Trademarks vs. Patents

While the terms trademark and patent are sometimes used interchangeably, they are actually two very different things. While a trademark protects a company's logo, symbol, or design, a patent gives ownership of a new product to the inventor. Patents keep others from copying a new invention and passing it off as their own creation. Since inventions and logos or slogans are all considered intellectual property, companies often use both trademarks and patents in their day-to-day operations. 

Who Holds the Most Patents?

You probably won't be surprised to learn that tech companies routinely top the list of companies that hold the most patents. New phones, tablets, computers, cameras, and gadgets, and often the parts inside, get patented for protection. Biotech companies and engineering firms also file for large numbers of patents. The process to get a patent takes an average of 27.4 months, so this is a lengthy and expensive endeavor. 

According to data presented in Entrepreneur magazine from the United States Patent Office:

  1. As of Dec. 1, 2014, IBM, also known as Big Blue, held almost 7,000 patents
  2. Next was Samsung, a Korean technology company, with more than 5,000 patents
  3. Canon was next with almost 4,000 patents
  4. Sony held over 3,000 patents
  5. Microsoft rounded out the top five with almost 3,000 patents

Who Holds the Most Trademarks?

  1. For 2014, Mattel owned more than 700 trademarks on its toys, games, and other products
  2. Pharmaceutical company Novartis owned 371 trademarks for the same year
  3. GlaxoSmithKline, another health care company, owned 357 in 2014
  4. Technology giant Samsung owned 309 trademarks in that year
  5. King.com was close behind with 307 trademarks in 2014

What Are Some Examples of the Value of a Well-Known Trademark?

  • Google holds the most valuable trademark on the planet, according to Brand Finance. The symbol is worth approximately $44 billion. When you look at it in terms of market capitalization (stock price times the number of shares), the logo makes up 27 percent of the company's overall value. A persistent worry for Google is that as the term becomes synonymous for search, the trademark protection and brand value may fall.
  • The golden arches at every McDonald's set an expectation for the meal you purchase. Rarely do you need to spend time browsing the menu; you already know what's there. That shortcut and brand recognition are valuable commodities to protect.
  • Sometimes a trademark applies to a specific word. For example, Entrepreneur Media Inc. owns the trademark on the word entrepreneur. That means other companies cannot use that word in their names or websites. Only Entrepreneur Media can use it, and it takes full advantage of that in the newsletter that goes out to 600,000 paid subscribers.
  • Apple remains one of the most valuable trademarks in the world year in and year out with a value over $29 billion. While Apple certainly owns its trademarked representation of an apple, it does not own the word apple. People are free to use that word as the name of a fruit all they want; however, if another tech company tried to sell products with the word apple in the name, they would likely face charges of trademark infringement.
  • Walmart is another trademark known worldwide with a value in excess of $32 billion. The familiar white letters against the blue background set an expectation before you ever enter the doors of the world's largest retailer. Such is the power of a properly managed and protected trademark.

If you need help with establishing trademark protection for your business or defending against trademark infringement, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.