What Is a Trademark?

Trademark essentially refers to a brand name. It can be in the form of a name, symbol, or slogan that distinguishes a product or business from its competitors. If someone else tries to use something similar to your registered trademark, you can legally stop them from doing so.

Under the U.S. Patent and Trademark rules, the trademark you intend to register must be distinct and in business use. If you want to register a trademark that is not yet in commercial use, you must make a good faith written argument claiming that you intend to use the trademark in commerce at some point in future.

A trademark can be distinctive in four different ways:

  • Descriptive
  • Suggestive
  • Fanciful or arbitrary
  • Generic

Suggestive and arbitrary trademarks are considered as being inherently distinctive. Whoever first registers them gets the rights to use them. Descriptive marks, personal names, and geographic terms may be registered as trademark only if they have a well-established secondary meaning in the minds of the consumers. You cannot trademark a generic term.

Trademarking Your Business Name

Although not required by law, you may want to trademark your business name. It will prevent others from using a name similar to yours.

Many banks require you to have your business name trademarked in order to be able to open a bank account in your business name. Some banks may allow you to open a business account in your Doing Business As (DBA) name. Although DBAs allow you to operate business under a fictitious name, they do not provide any legal protection against the use of a business name similar to yours.

Trademarking a name also gives you the legal rights to its exclusive usage in specific locations across the city, state, or nation. The holder of a registered trademark can mark his products, and no one else is allowed to use the trademarked name, symbol, or slogan in that specific region.

Trademarks help consumers make a safe and confident purchasing decision. A business dealing in products or services bearing its trademark is bound to be more responsible towards them. Businesses usually take pride in maintaining the quality of their trademarked products. Trademarks thus offer protection for businesses and consumers alike.

Trademarks are an essential tool for consumer protection and global economic growth. They promote freedom of choice and encourage healthy competition, benefiting all the stakeholders, including consumers, employees, and brand owners.

Brand rankings and studies conducted by the European Union, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and several agencies in the United States demonstrate the value of trademarks in today's business environment.

Trademark Search and Registration Cost

  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers an online database of trademarks.
  • You can conduct a search of their database to make sure that there is no existing trademark similar to what you propose to register.
  • USPTO charges $275 for the initial trademark registration.
  • You will be required to pay a few hundred dollars after five years of registration and thereafter, a few hundred dollars every 10 years.

The Importance of Trademarks

Trademarks are an effective tool of communication. You can convey your brand message in an emotional and intellectual manner through your trademark.

Your trademark need not be a word; you can even use a design, which can be recognized without any language barriers. For example, the Nike symbol is recognized across the world regardless of language and nationality.

In a crowded marketplace where it's hard to distinguish yourself from your competitors, trademarks help your customers find you. They make your products and business stand out from others.

Along with your business reputation, the value of your trademarks appreciates over time. Additionally, you can use a trademark established in one industry to diversify your business into another. For example, if you are well-established in the personal care industry, you can leverage your brand name to launch a clothing line. If you so desire, you can also use your trademark to sell your business to a larger company.

Ultimately, your trademark is an important part of your brand's identity. It helps you build a trusted relationship with your customers and gives you legal ground to stand on in case someone else tries to infringe on your trademark.

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