A list of trademarks and logos is a record of these protected elements of intellectual property. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark can also be called a service mark and consists of a symbol, device, name, and/or word that distinguishes the unique goods and/or services a company provides. 

What Is a Trademark?

Any distinctive mark can be considered a trademark, regardless of its form. It must be recognizable by the public. Nike's iconic "swoosh" symbol is often cited as the ideal example of a trademark, because you automatically recognize that a garment with the swoosh logo is a Nike product.

A trademark is designed to protect a brand from confusion with similar companies in the marketplace. The three white stripes used on Adidas shoes are another example of a trademark. If another brand uses four white stripes, they could easily be confused for Adidas styles. This not only causes the brand that holds the trademark to lose money but also causes damage to their reputation if the similar-looking product is of lower quality. When another brand's logo is close enough to yours that customers become confused, this constitutes legally-enforceable trademark infringement.

Trademark and Logos

Many businesses use both copyright and trademark to protect logos from unauthorized use, since substantial overlap exists between these areas of intellectual property law. Logos fall into a gray area. Most people consider logos to be trademarks because they are a critical means of identification for a business. A logo is considered a trademark when it is used on a product or the product's packaging or label and becomes associated with the business itself. 

When you begin using a logo to identify your business in the marketplace, it is automatically eligible for trademark protection. This allows much broader protection than a copyright would, since trademark protects designs, fonts, colors, and other logo elements that cannot be copyrighted. However, a copyright protects against all unauthorized use, while trademark only protects against use that causes confusion in the local or regional marketplace. For example, Ace Bandages cannot be prevented from using the same trademarked name as Ace Hardware, since they are not in the same industry.

Copyright and Logos

Logos that display a certain amount of artistic creativity can be copyrighted as well as trademarked. This designation typically only applies to logos that are very ornate, such as a design that includes an original illustration. In general, a logo can be covered by copyright protection if it could stand alone as an artwork or creation apart from its association with the business. Copyright and trademark protection are not considered mutually exclusive.

What Do You Gain by Registering Your Logo as a Trademark?

If you design a logo for your business, you could protect your intellectual property with both a copyright and a trademark. Trademark status will protect you from any use that causes marketplace confusion and copyright protects from all unwanted use of your logo. The type of protection that you need is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances of unauthorized use. 

Common trademark protection, which takes effect when you begin using the logo, is regional and may be hard to legally enforce. For this reason, you may want to register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Doing so gives you exclusive rights such as:

  • Protection under federal law that allows trademark owners to sue those who register similar domains
  • The ability to ask United States Customs and Border Patrol to confiscate imported goods that infringe on your trademark
  • The ability to sue a trademark infringer in federal rather than state court
  • Ownership of your trademark throughout the United States and internationally

Because trademarks do not need to be registered in the U.S. to be legally protected, it is often easier to defend a trademark than it is a copyright. However, suing to defend a trademark in court can be costly.

When developing a new logo, you can avoid trademark infringement as long as you don't fraudulently claim a relationship with a company that has a similar trademark. If the logo in question is artistic enough to be copyrighted, however, you must also consider issues of fair use.

If you need help with trademarks and logos, 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, Stripe, and Twilio.