The idea of marking an item for ownership can be traced back in history to the finding of marks on pottery created many thousands of years ago. The economic use of such marks shows up in 500 B.C. during the Roman Empire.
Today, according to the USPTO, a trademark is defined, as “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
Service marks are the same as trademarks, except they refer to the source of a service and not a product. The term “marks” is typically used to define the proper usage of both.
The benefit of such a mark is that it will legally prevent others from using a similar name or likeness that identifies your product or business. Familiar commercial companies such as Federal Express use trademarks to protect their company name, slogans, logos and other identifiable symbols. This protects a company in the event that someone tries to confuse the public by presenting a very similar name, logo or slogan.
Technically speaking, it is not necessary to register a trademark with the USPTO. By legitimately using the ® symbol next to your mark, it is possible to establish rights. However, it is beneficial to register the mark with the USPTO for several reasons, which include:
Legal recognition of the USPTO registration symbol ® by United States courts; Ability to bring a legal action in a Federal Court; Listing on the Principal Register, which provides public notice of legal ownership of the mark; Greater ease in obtaining registration in other countries; Recognition by U.S. Customs, which can prevent infringement by the importation of foreign goods.
Like a copyright, you should use the mark whenever using the product, symbol or slogan publicly. FedEx is an example of how the trademark is used in all packaging, advertising and promotion of a brand name. You should take the time to remind all of your employees, particularly in the advertising, promotion, graphics and design departments, to use the mark properly.
A trademark search can save you time and money. You can find companies such as Thomson and Thomson or Allmark Trademark that will conduct a search for you to make sure another company is not already using a trademark that you are looking to register. Doing a web search on Google is also advisable.
Note: Many words cannot be registered as a trademark. If a word simply describes an invention, a function or is a widely used generic term, it will not qualify as a mark and the USPTO can refuse to register it. For example, the word “printer” cannot be registered for the invention of a new type of computer printer.
The USPTO encourages applicants to file electronically.
It is advantageous to review the guidelines regarding the filing of an application at the USPTO Web site or get the pamphlet called “Basic Facts about Trademarks.” While you do not need an attorney to file a trademark or service mark application, it may be worthwhile to have one look over your application before you send it. The current filing fee, which accompanies the application is $335.