What is a trademark?
A trademark is a distinctive sign which identifies certain goods or services as those produced or provided by a specific person or enterprise. Its origin dates back to ancient times, when craftsmen reproduced their signatures, or “marks” on their artistic or utilitarian products. Over the years these marks evolved into today’s system of trademark registration and protection. The system helps consumers identify and purchase a product or service because its nature and quality, indicated by its unique trademark, meets their needs.
What does a trademark do?
A trademark provides protection to the owner of the mark by ensuring the exclusive right to use it to identify goods or services, or to authorize another to use it in return for payment. The period of protection varies, but a trademark can be renewed indefinitely beyond the time limit on payment of additional fees. Trademark protection is enforced by the courts, which in most systems have the authority to block trademark infringement. They promote initiative and enterprise worldwide by rewarding the owners of trademarks with recognition and financial profit. Trademark protection also hinders the efforts of unfair competitors, such as counterfeiters, to use similar distinctive signs to market inferior or different products or services.
How does one secure trademark rights?
Trademark rights arise from actual use of a name, logo or symbol in the marketplace. However, rights important to the protection and enforcement of the trademark can be obtained only through registration. The first step to register a trademark is to clear the mark for use. This process normally entails ensuring that the mark is not already being used by someone else in connection with similar goods and/or services. If the mark is already being used, another mark may have to be selected or features added to the proposed mark to help distinguish it from other uses. If the mark is not being used, one simply registers by applying to the Patent and Trademark Office.
How long does a Trademark last?
In the United States, Trademark rights are perpetual in nature as long as the owner renews the rights of the trademarks by filing certain declarations of continued use at specific time periods and pays the associated USPTO filing fees.
Four Reasons Why Trademarks Are Important to Your Business
The purchasing decisions of consumers are constantly influenced by trademarks. As a business person or corporate executive, it is important to have a solid understanding of why trademarks are so important to effective commerce.
1. Trademarks make it easy for consumers to find you.
- Trademarks help you distinguish your products and services from those of competitors and help identify you as the source.
- Trademarks indicate a consistent level of quality of your products and services.
- Awareness of your brand and the goodwill embodied in your trademark can often take decades to establish.
- Aggregate cost of advertising, promotion, marketing, and sales efforts can easily reach into tens of millions or even billions of dollars, depending on the product/service.
- Differentiating your product/service from competitors is increasingly difficult to achieve, especially over a protracted period.
- Trademarks are the most efficient commercial communication tool ever devised to:
– “cut through the clutter”;
– capture the consumer’s attention; and
– make your products/services stand out.
2. Trademarks help prevent marketplace confusion
- Trademarks protect the consuming public by preventing confusion as to the source of goods or services.
- If the product made under a brand turns out to be defective, consumers have accurate information about the source of a product and can return it to the manufacturer or supplier for a refund.
- Trademarks give consumers the ability to protect themselves by relying upon known brands of products or services.
- Trademarks provide consumer convenience by allowing consumers to identify (by word, logo, slogan, package design, or other indicators of origin) which product or service they would like to purchase or to avoid purchasing.
- Trademarks provide consumer convenience by allowing consumers to base their purchasing decisions on what they have heard, read, or experienced themselves.
- Trademarks motivate companies to provide 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.
3. Trademarks are a very economically efficient communication tool
- Trademarks dramatically reduce the costs of decision-making by allowing consumers to rapidly select the desired product or service from among competitive offerings.
- Trademarks can wrap up in a single brand or logo intellectual and emotional attributes and messages about your:
– Products and services; and
– Consumers’ lifestyles, aspirations, and desires.
- Trademarks can work effectively across borders, cultures, and languages.
- Famous marks can be recognized as brands even when the native population speaks a different language and reads a different alphabet (i.e., the McDonalds “arches” logo, the NIKE “swoosh” logo).
4. Trademarks are your most enduring assets
- Trademarks are one of the few assets that can provide you with a long-term competitive advantage.
- Trademarks are usually the only business asset you have that can appreciate over time.
- Trademarks are leverageable – they provide value beyond your core business, and can pave the way for expansion (or acquisition, if desired) of your business.
For more information on legal issues, contact Roger Royse.