Trademarks and Service Marks

The history of trademarks goes way back centuries. A trademark is any type of symbol that indicates the origin of goods and services. It's often a shorthand symbol, which is easier to recognize and remember than a larger or more complex indicator. Applying a shorthand mark is typically more practical to physically place on the product or packaging yet will make it obvious as the origin of the goods or services.

Using the TM or (R) symbols near the mark will indicate to competitors and consumers that registration of the mark is pending or in force. These symbols also state that any unauthorized use of the trademark could result in legal consequences and warn competitors of the mark's legal registration and protections. The symbol for a service mark is SM and holds the same legal protections as a trademark.

A Brief Origin of Trademarks

Trademarks, or symbols, words, or images, connect products and services to the companies that manufacture them. Modern symbols, such as R, TM, and SM, signify the legal protection, but trademarks have been around for a long time. In fact, the history traces back to Biblical times and earlier.

Trademark legislation in the United States has been a topic of conversation since President Thomas Jefferson advocated protection for trademarks, which happened as early as 1791. However, it took nearly a century before any federal legislation around trademark protection was passed. The law of registering trademarks went into effect in July 1870 but was quickly repealed due to its conflict with constitutional rights. A new law went into effect in 1881, followed by the creation of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 1905. Today, all registrations for trademarks are handled through the USPTO.

Trademarks During Ancient Times

It is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly when the first trademark came to be, but one of the earliest known examples dates back to 5000 BC. In this era, people in China were making pottery that included the name of the Chinese emperor in power. The pottery also showcased the location where the pottery was created, along with the name of the person who manufactured each piece. Early examples of trademarks are often associated with the identities of the owners or makers of specific goods. Although some of the earlier trademarks date as far back as 5000 BC, the identifiable marks are different from how trademarks are defined today. Those early trademarks are found on pottery pieces from Transylvania.

Another way to look at the history of trademarks is found in the definition of the word “hieroglyphs.” A Greek Egyptian Hellenistic author, Horapollon, wrote a book titled “Hieroglyphica.” In this book, he stated that hieroglyphs served as ideograms that conveyed ideas, not as elements of the local language. Examples contained within the book became more common and visible in emblematic science. For example, he talked about the Phoenix bird and its meaning. As he described in his book, demotic script was first found as early as 660 BC, at the start of the 26th dynasty.

In ancient Egypt, a trademark identified a product's origin, so craftsmen would include unique images and signs on their products for easier recognition. Trademarks in ancient China are visible on gold coins and seals, which include unique imprints or drawings in the metal to identify the owner or manufacturer. The idea of adding emblems and symbols was also popular in medieval Europe. In fact, the military attire in the 15th century was rich with emblems and other designs, which decorated suits of armor, jackets, hats, and harnesses worn by the horses.

In the 12th century, King Edward the First enacted a new law prohibiting jewelers from selling their creations unless each piece included a stamp from the Goldsmith's Hall, the royal office in London. If any jeweler attempted to create a counterfeit hallmark, the punishment was death. A merchant mark is a personal mark that was used between the 13th and 16th centuries by European merchants and traders. In fact, a merchant mark is commonly believed to be the earliest form of a modern trademark. A merchant's mark typically included the trader's name, serving as a guarantee of quality for the purchased goods. 

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