Property Rights

Trademarks

What is a trademark? A trademark is like a brand name. It is any word(s) or symbol(s) that represent a product to identify and distinguish it from other products in the marketplace. A trademark word example would be "Rollerblades." A trademark symbol would be the peacock used by NBC.

How do I establish a trademark? A trademark can be registered in three ways:

1. By filing a "use" application after the mark has been used.

2. By filing an "intent to use" application if the mark has not yet been used.

3. In certain circumstances in which a foreign application exists, you can rely on that.

When can I use the (TM) and ® symbols with my trademark? The (TM) mark may be used immediately next to your mark. The ® registration symbol may only be used when the mark is registered with the PTO. It is unlawful to use this symbol with your mark before receiving an issued registration from the PTO.

What qualities make for a strong trademark? The cardinal rule is that a mark must be distinctive. The more distinctive it is, the easier your trademark will be to enforce. This is why so many trademarked products have unique spellings.

How long does a trademark last? Trademark rights last indefinitely if the company continues to use the mark to identify its goods or services. When the mark is no longer being used, the registration is terminated. The initial term of federal trademark registration is 10 years, with 10-year renewal terms.

Where do I file a trademark application? The Assistant Commissioner for Trademarks, 2900 Crystal Dr., Arlington, VA 22202-3513.

How can I get more information? Call (703) 308-HELP or (703) 557-INFO.

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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Property Rights.

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