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A Business Student's Guide to Trademarks

When a business adopts a specific word, name, symbol, or design as a representation of their goods and services, then it must take the necessary steps to safeguard this representation of their organization from their competitors. For instance, manufacturers produce their goods under a unique symbol that helps identify their goods with their company. Nike and Cocoa Cola have become shining examples of corporations who adopted a unique symbol as an association with their products. Corporations and small businesses aspire to reach this level of notoriety by adopting their own unique symbols. They can do this by registering their unique word, name, phrase, or symbol as a "trademark" with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A registered trademark helps protect their company name or logo from businesses who sell similar products.

The following will answer the basic questions regarding registering and owning a trademark for the trade of goods and services in the marketplace:

What is a trademark?

A trademark involves the commercial use of any word, symbol, name, design, or any combination of the aforementioned, to identify the goods of one manufacturer or seller from another. Trademarks indicate the source of the goods, which essentially means they are brand names. A service mark operates on the same principle, except in regards to services rendered from one provider to the next.

What are trademarks used for?

Trademarks grant intellectual property rights of a word, symbol, name, design, or any combination thereof, which may be used for commercial use. Trademarks prevent other manufacturers and sellers from using a confusingly similar mark. They do not, however, prevent others from producing or selling the same goods or services under a different mark. Manufacturers and sellers who intend to produce and sell their goods or services interstate or through foreign commerce may register with the United States Patent and Trademark office.

What is the difference between the different types of trademarks?

Businesses may use the "TM" (trademark) or "SM" (service mark) symbol next to their mark to alert the public of their claim to the mark, regardless of if they have registered it with the United States Patent and Trading Office. Businesses may use the "�" (registered trademark) to indicate that the business has registered the mark officially in the United States Patent and Trading Office's database. Businesses that have pending applications may not use the registered trademark insignia. In addition, businesses may use the registration symbol only with the goods and services listed in the federal trademark registration database.

Why are trademarks important?

Trademarks prevent confusion among manufacturers and sellers who engage in the commercial trade of similar goods and services. A trademark informs the consumer that the goods or services with its mark have a certain quality or standard. This empowers the consumer by allowing him or her to choose between competing products of the same kind. Trademarks also instill a sense of respectability and trust between the producer and the consumer. As a result, trademarks promote a sense of loyalty between manufacturers and consumers.

How does one get a trademark?

Manufacturers and sellers can apply for a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Trademark rights arise when a manufacturer or seller uses the name, logo, or symbol to trade commercially in the marketplace. However, commercial entities do not receive the protection and enforcement aspects of the trademark process until they have registered their mark officially with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The registered trademark process involves multiple steps in assigning and protecting trademarks from other entities. The first step usually consists of researching existing trademarks to see if the proposed mark already exists under another entity's name. If the mark already exists in the official trademark registry, then the proposing entity may need to select or add features to their mark to help distinguish it from others. If the proposed mark does not exist, then the manufacturer or seller simply registers by submitting an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.