A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.
The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.
- Identifies the source of your goods or services.
- Provides legal protection for your brand.
- Helps you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.
A common misconception is that having a trademark means you legally own a particular word or phrase and can prevent others from using it. However, you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.
For example, let's say you use a logo as a trademark for your small woodworking business to identify and distinguish your goods or services from others in the woodworking field. This doesn't mean you can stop others from using a similar logo for non-woodworking related goods or services.
Another common misconception is believing that choosing a trademark that merely describes your goods or services is effective. Creative and unique trademarks are more effective and easier to protect. Read more about strong trademarks.
Owning a trademark vs. having a registered trademark
You become a trademark owner as soon as you start using your trademark with your goods or services. You establish rights in your trademark by using it, but those rights are limited, and they only apply to the geographic area in which you’re providing your goods or services. If you want stronger, nationwide rights, you’ll need to apply to register your trademark with us.
You’re not required to register your trademark. However, a registered trademark provides broader rights and protections than an unregistered one.
For example, you use a logo as a trademark for the handmade jewelry you sell at a local farmer’s market. As your business grows and you expand online, you might want more protection for your trademark and decide to apply for federal registration. Registering your trademark with us means that you create nationwide rights in your trademark.
Using the trademark symbols TM, SM, and ®
Every time you use your trademark, you can use a symbol with it. The symbol lets consumers and competitors know you’re claiming the trademark as yours. You can use “TM” for goods or “SM” for services even if you haven’t filed an application to register your trademark.
Once you register your trademark with us, use an ® with the trademark. You may use the registration symbol anywhere around the trademark, although most trademark owners use the symbol in a superscript or subscript manner to the right of the trademark. You may only use the registration symbol with the trademark for the goods or services listed in the federal trademark registration.