What is a trademark, and should you register one?

Those in American Fork who enjoy a coffee and pastry on the go may be aware that, “America runs on Dunkin®.” Sports enthusiasts may look for the Nike® logo with its famous swoosh when buying sneakers. These are examples of just two trademarked phrases and symbols that are household names. Trademarks are a type of intellectual property and can be one of a business’ most valuable assets.

What constitutes a trademark?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that a business uses to identify its goods and services and distinguish it from competitors. While they do the same thing, the phrase “trademark” applies to goods sold and the term “service mark” applies to services offered.

Trademarks are useful for three main reasons. They identify the source of a business’ goods or services. They provide a business’ brand with legal protections. Finally, they help businesses avoid being the victim or perpetrator of trademark counterfeiting or fraud.

Trademarking a word or phrase does not give a business the exclusive authority to use it in all contexts. It only protects that phrase as used with the business’ specific goods and services. For example, the golden arches of McDonald’s® cannot be used by others in the restaurant industry. However, if a business that does not provide the same goods or services as a restaurant wants to use a similar logo, under the right circumstances this may be permissible.

Should you register your trademark?

Registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not required to begin using that trademark. However, there are advantages to registering your trademark. If you do not register your trademark, your rights to it are limited and only apply to the specific area of the country where you provide those goods and/or services.

Registering a trademark provides nationwide protection. If your trademark is listed as a registered trademark, those searching for a similar mark in federal databases will find it and can avoid duplicating it. Registering a trademark also provides you with the legal presumption that the trademark belongs to you, should ownership of the trademark become an issue.

Learn more about trademarks

This is only a basic overview of trademarks under U.S. law. If you are considering establishing and registering a trademark, you will need to ensure that you take all the necessary steps to ensure that the phrase and/or symbol you want can belong to you.