What is a Trademark?
A trademark, as defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from another’s. Think of Starbucks coffee cup logo, McDonald’s yellow arch, or Coca-Cola; all are commonly recognized trademarks used to associate the company with their respective goods or service. Registering your trademark with the USPTO can help protect your brand from fraudulent competitors, meaning another company attempting to deceive buyers into believing they are you. This is referred to as trademark infringement, which is illegal, and gives the holder of the registered Trademark the right to sue the person masquerading as their brand.
But First, a Comprehensive Search
When applying for a trademark, the first recommended step is usually to hire a professional to conduct a comprehensive search of the USPTO and common-law brands. These searches help the applicant identify possible conflicts and avoid applying for a name or design that has a low likelihood of acceptance. This is where consulting a licensed attorney before you apply is beneficial. Attorneys assist in the application process, give feedback and advice brand protection strategy, help steer you away from applying for marks that don’t meet USPTO criteria for protection, and answer any questions you have along the way.
Word Mark vs Design Mark
When applying for a trademark there are two primary types of applications to consider; a standard word mark or a design mark. Standard character format, also known as a word mark, is a word or phrase consisting only of words, letters, numbers, or a combination of such. Word marks protect the language of the trademark (think “Target”), whereas a design mark can consist of any number of stylized elements and protects how it looks (think the Target bullseye). The big difference is that a word mark protects the language of your name brand or slogan, meaning you can change font, color, style or size, and still have protection. A design marks protect a logo, or an image that represents the brand.
Considerations When Applying for a Trademark
The two formats discussed serve different purposes, thus protecting your brand in different ways from trademark infringement. You do have the option to register for multiple trademarks to better protect your brand from different forms of infringement. Take Nike, for instance. Nike holds several registered trademarks with the USPTO including the phrase “NIKE” as a word mark, the swoosh as a design mark, and the combination of Nike written above the swoosh as a second design mark. This provides Nike with optimum protection for their brand, leaving little room for others to legally manipulate the designs.
The most important thing to remember when considering protection for your brand is to do your research, and when you’re ready, have an attorney handle the search and application process.
For answers to your questions, visit our informational resource in trademarks here.