Trademarks Overview

A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.

Trademarks are often among the most important and valuable assets of a business. Trademarks, many times known and used as brand names, are a part of everyday life. The main purpose of a trademark is to enable the public to recognize the goods or services as originating in a particular company or being a particular product or service. Trademarks are protected by law in order to serve this source-indicating function and prevent the public from being confused about the source of the goods or services. By doing this, a trademark also helps to assure that the trademark owner, and not an imitative competitor, will reap the rewards associated with a desirable product. By acting as indicators of source, trademarks and service marks promise a consistent level of quality, helping the consumer to decide whether to purchase a desirable product or service again or to avoid an undesirable one.

Although federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, it has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government agency responsible for examining trademark applications and issuing trademark registrations. A trademark registration holder is responsible for enforcing their rights. While the USPTO attempts to ensure that no other party receives a federal registration for an identical or similar mark for or as applied to related goods/services, the owner of a registration is responsible for bringing any legal action to stop a party from using an infringing mark.

Every year approximately 300,000 trademark applications are filed with the USPTO. Currently, there are approximately 1.8 million active certificates of registration in the United States.