1. What is a Trademark?
2. What Symbols are Used for Trademarks?
3. What's the Difference Between Registered and Unregistered Trademarks?
4. Can I Use a Name for a Company, Product, or Service?
5. What are the Benefits of Trademark Registration?

Reading a few trademark questions and answers is the best way to decide if registering a trademark is the most suitable way to protect your intellectual property (IP). Although trademarks are extremely useful, they are not suitable for every type of IP.

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks can come in several different forms and can be a design, a phrase, a symbol, or even a word. The important thing to remember is that trademarks are used to identify the services or products of the company that owns the trademark.

There are several items for which a trademark registration may be issued:

  • Logos
  • Slogans
  • Product names
  • Company names

In some cases, the packaging or color of a product can also be protected by a trademark. Trademarks should be very memorable. When a potential customer sees your trademark, the goal is for them to immediately associate with your business.

For the fullest protections possible, trademarks should be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Formally registering a trademark provides more protection than common law and unregistered trademarks. Once a trademark has been registered, businesses can stop people from using their mark without authorization.

To keep USPTO trademark protections in place, you must continually use your mark. Trademarks, unlike other types of intellectual property protections, have no expiration. As long as you do not abandon your trademark and you renew your mark when required, you will be able to enforce your rights. Filing affidavits of Excusable Non-Use or Continued Use will renew your trademark rights.

What Symbols are Used for Trademarks?

There are different notations that can be used to indicate your trademarked rights. Before you register your trademark, you can use the ™ notation. For a service mark, you would use “SM.” Once you have completed the USPTO registration process and your trademark has been approved, you can use the ® symbol. This symbol shows that your trademark is now registered and has full USPTO protections.

If you want to be able to fully protect your trademark, including protecting it against infringement, you should be sure to take the time to register your mark.

You should make it a point to keep track of how your trademark is being used. This will help you to identify misuse so that you can enforce your rights in a timely manner. It can also be a good idea to register your trademark internationally if you plan to use your mark in other countries.

What's the Difference Between Registered and Unregistered Trademarks?

While registering your trademark with the USPTO will provide you with advanced protections, registration is not required. If you have created a company logo and wish to start using it, you can simply indicate your rights with the ™ symbol. Using your trademark in concert with this symbol will give you common law trademark rights.

Common law rights will help you to secure your trademark, but they do not offer the robust protections you can receive with USPTO registration. Rights to a trademark depend on first use. For first use to be established, however, your mark must actually be eligible. This means that your mark cannot have already been used by someone else, and you need to be using your mark for commercial purposes.

Can I Use a Name for a Company, Product, or Service?

One of the most important parts of incorporating or registering a business is making sure that the name you have chosen for your business is available for use. One of the primary reasons that a corporation or LLC registration is denied is that there is a business name conflict. To make sure your desired business name is available at the federal level, you should be sure to perform a trademark search.

You should also be aware that it is still possible to infringe on someone else's trademark even if the mark has not been registered with the USPTO. In addition to a federal trademark search, you should search trademark databases at the local and state levels so that you can be sure you're not at risk for infringement.

What are the Benefits of Trademark Registration?

Registering your trademark can provide you with several important benefits:

  • Increasing the available damages in an infringement lawsuit.
  • Providing you the ability to use the ® symbol.
  • Making it easier for you to acquire domain names.
  • Offering stronger protections than common law rights.

If you need help with trademark questions and answers, you can post your legal needs 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.