The definition of a trademark is a legally protected identifying symbol or words that belongs to a particular brand, company or person and that is associated with that brand.
Elements of a Trademark
The actual elements or designs that are considered a trademark are somewhat flexible, since a trademark can be words, pictures, logos, phrases or a combination of all of these things. However, there are some essential elements to the definition of a trademark:
- Trademarks are identifying factors that consumers can use to relate to a company’s offered products or services.
- Trademarks are used so that customers can easily differentiate between the products and services offered by one company and those offered by other competitive companies.
- Trademarks can also be simple characteristics that are used for identification. This is often the case for trademarks concerning celebrities.
Types of Trademarks
There are many different types of trademarks and understanding these types of trademarks is essential to understanding trademark registration:
- Unregistered trademark. This type of mark is typically seen in the promotion or branding of goods.
- Unregistered service mark. This is a mark used in the promotion or branding of services.
- Registered trademark. Owners of registered trademarks are able to file suit against anyone who infringes upon the use of their trademarks.
Each type of trademark has their own identifying symbol so that others can see what type of trademark a company or product has. For example:
- An unregistered trademark is typically identified by the appearance of a small uppercase T side by side with an uppercase M.
- A service mark is identified by the small appearance of an uppercase S side by side with an uppercase M.
- Registered trademarks are represented by an uppercase R encased in a circle, similar to a copyright symbol. Example: Name of Trademark®
Decision to Register a Trademark
Registration of a trademark is not required in many cases and formal registration is not even always required to take legal action against an entity that infringes on a trademark.
- The owner of an unregistered common law trademark can initiate legal proceedings for trademark infringement.
- Trademarks that are not registered are afforded only limited protection within the geographical area they are in and the areas where they may expand to in the future.
Registering a Trademark
In order for trademarks to be registered in the United States, you must complete the process of filing and registering through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
- The process of registering a trademark in the United States typically takes approximately six months from start to finish.
- In order to limit trademark infringement, there are trademark databases maintained by the government.
- In the United States, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a database of all registered trademarks. This database is made available to the public so that it can be searched by companies in order to ensure that their trademarks do not infringe on those trademarks that are already registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Trademark protection is a key legal protection for your business. By registering and protecting your trademark you can also protect an important part of the image of your company.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, trademarks do not have a definite end date attached to them. However, you need to file documents from time to time in order to keep the trademark going. Once you receive the initial trademark registration, you must follow these steps to ensure that the trademark does not expire:
- File a "Declaration of Use under Section 8" between the fifth and sixth year after the registration is issued.
- File a combined "Declaration of Use and Application for Renewal under Sections 8 and 9" between the ninth and tenth year after the registration is issued.
- After the initial filing of the "Declaration of Use and Application for Renewal under Sections 8 and 9," you must continue to file this form every 10 years.
As long as you continue to complete these various tasks, your trademark will not expire.
Trademark After Death
Trademarks often belong to companies and corporations; however, if the trademark belongs to an individual, the trademark would expire within 10 years of the person's death, since he or she would clearly not be able to file the required paperwork to renew the trademark.
In some cases, the rights to a particular trademark could be passed on to another person. However, as the United States Patent and Trademark Office notes, these cases vary and are not always the same. They suggest contacting an attorney to discuss your particular case.