Updated Ocotber 28, 2020:

The key to understanding trademarks is understanding their purpose. Trademarks are words, designs, or sounds that distinguish the services or products of a person or company from their competitors. Though trademarks help associate the company with its goods, they also grow to represent the reputation of the company over time.

Trademarks are valuable intellectual property belonging to a company. They are often confused with copyrights, patents, integrated circuit topographies, or industrial designs, which are also protected intellectual property. There are some distinguishing characteristics of each, however:

  • Patents are granted for useful and new inventions that are comprised of products, composition, machines, or processes, or that may be a useful improvement on an already existing invention.
  • Copyright protects literary, dramatic, artistic, or musical work, as well as computer programs and works like performances, recordings, or communication signals.
  • Industrial designs consist of visual features of pattern, ornamentation, shape, configuration, or any combination in a finished article.
  • Integrated circuit topographies are three-dimensional configurations or electronic circuits in an integrated circuit product or design layout.

A trademark registration may be canceled if a similar trademark or trade name has been used in Canada. A trademark can also be expunged for reasons related to ownership, distinctiveness, abandonment, or lack of use. 

Trademarks are infinitely renewable, provided they're being used. Two similar types of branding, a service mark and a trade dress, are often mistakenly referred to as trademarks. However, a service mark refers to services instead of products, and trade dress refers to the physical packaging of a product, either in color, shape, or design.

Another area of confusion is the difference between legal names, trade names, and trademarks. 

The legal name of a business is the name of the person or entity that owns it. With a partnership business, the legal name is usually within the partnership agreement or comprised of the partners' last names. For LLCs or corporations, the legal name is what was registered with the state government. 

A trade name is the name of the business. It can only be registered under the Trademarks Act if it is also used as a trademark to identify the products or services. 

Types of Trademarks

  • An ordinary mark that includes words, sounds, designs, or any combination thereof to distinguish itself from the competition can be used as a trademark.
  • A certification mark could be granted to several companies or people to indicate that there's a defined standard of service across the trademarked business.
  • A distinguishing guise refers to the shape of the products or its containers or a manner of packaging goods that establishes that they are made by a specific person or company.

Register Your Trademark

A trademark can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Registration proves that you own your trademark. Using a trademark for a certain length of time grants you ownership by common law, but registering your trademark gives you additional benefits. 

Your registered trademark lasts 15 years. The registrar provides you with the information needed to file. Once they obtain your application, it becomes part of your trademark's public record. 

If no one opposes your trademark or a dispute has been ruled in your favor, your application will go through and you won't face any additional challenges. You will need to pay a registration fee if your application is accepted. You will then receive a certificate of registration, and the trademark will be entered into the Register of Trademarks. Once registered, you will need to file periodic applications for renewal and declarations of use or non-use. 

How Much Does Registration Cost?

The cost of registration for a trademark depends on your business needs. Usually, a filing fee and registration fee are the only costs, but some situations require additional fees. 

Trademark registration can be paid by major credit card, postal money order, check, or direct payment. Pricing is $375 per class for paper filing and $325 per class for electronic filing. 

Renewing your trademark registration also requires a renewal fee every 15 years. Failure to pay the fee or process the renewal will expunge your trademark from the Register of Trademarks. 

You will receive notices containing information about your payment deadlines from the registrar.

Trademark law can be complicated, so don't hesitate to consult a professional trademark attorney for assistance.

If you need help understanding trademarks, 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.