US Trademarks and Patents

The registration of both US trademarks and patents are administered by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but they are different forms of intellectual property.

What are US Trademarks and Patents?

Trademarks and service marks are used by businesses to protect their business’ identity. Trademarks are unique marks like logos, business names, or phrases that identify a specific business as the source of the goods with the mark. Service marks are unique marks that identify a specific business as the source of services received. An individual’s radio or television personality is also considered a service mark. 

When “TM” or “SM” are noted after a word, phrase, or logo, it means the business is claiming the mark is a protected trademark or service mark. Even though they have distinct functions, trademarks and service marks are usually both called “marks” or “trademarks.”

Patents protect new and novel inventions and discoveries. Patents help prevent other people and businesses from using your invention or discovery without the patent owner’s permission.

How Do You Obtain a US Trademark or Patent?

The USPTO grants federal-level trademarks and patents. Patents are registered at the federal level and trademarks can be registered at the federal level when used in interstate commerce.

To obtain a trademark or patent from the USPTO, you must complete the required application process and pay filing fees, which vary in amount depending on the type of registration you are filing. The USPTO’s website provides all of the information you need to understand federal registration of US trademarks and patents.

Not all trademarks are registered with the USPTO. Some trademarks are unregistered. Others are registered with the state where the business is operating. For example, under Texas state law, state-level trademarks and service marks can be registered with the Texas Secretary of State. Whether and where to register a mark is a complex decision that trademark attorneys can help businesses decide.

Does a US Trademark or Patent Provide International Protection?

Unfortunately, approval of your patent or trademark by the USPTO does not automatically provide it with international protection. 

A USPTO registered trademark is an important first step to obtaining international trademark registration. Once a trademark is registered in a member-country, like the United States, international trademark registration is available through the World Intellectual Property Association (WIPO).

In addition to international registration, US trademarks can obtain some additional protection against infringing international competitors by registering the marks with US Customs to prevent importation of goods with infringing marks into the United States.

Unlike trademarks, there is no “international patent” that provides protection in multiple countries at once. Patent owners must apply and register their patent in every country where they want patent protection. Patent owners can apply to multiple countries at once by using a streamlined application process developed by WIPO. Even with the streamlined application, patent owners are still responsible for meeting each country’s requirements and paying each country’s fees. Registered patent attorneys can help ensure you comply with the applicable regulations.

What is the Purpose and History of the US Patent and Trademark Office?

The USPTO fulfills dual purposes. It carries out the government’s duty to issue patents under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution. The USPTO has also been granted the power to register trademarks under the “Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution which allows the federal government to regulate commerce between states.

The USPTO’s history dates back to 1802 when a distinct federal patent office was first created.  Some other important dates in the USPTO’s history:

  • 1836 – Significant patent law revision leads to significant reorganization of the office and change in the name of the head of the office from “Superintendent of Patents” to “Commissioner of Patents.”
  • 1849 – Office moved from the Department of State to the Department of Interior.
  • 1925 – Office moved under the Department of Commerce. It has remained under the Department of Commerce ever since.
  • 1975 – Name of the department changed from the “Patent Office” to the “Patent and Trademark Office.”
  • 2000 – Name of the department changed from “Patent and Trademark Office” to “United States Patent and Trademark Office.”

Although the office’s location and organization has changed over the years, it’s primary purpose has been the same in the more than 200 years that it has been in existence: it protects the rights of creators and business owners to promote continued business and scientific development. To fulfill this goal, the office registers trademarks and copyrights and administers the regulations and laws. One thing the USPTO does not do is address patent infringement and enforcement issues.

If you need help with registering a patent or trademark, 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.