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The Basics of Trademark Law

Whether you have a service business or have your own product line, there is probably some part of your business that is unique. That makes it necessary for you to consider obtaining a trademark.

Typically, a trademark is any symbol, expression, word, sign or logo that specifically identifies your specific product or service and is unique to your business or service. A trademark protects the branding or the name of the product. To be trademark eligible the name or expression must be unique rather than generic.

Obtaining a trademark gives you several benefits and protects you and your business in the marketplace.

First, a trademark illustrates to consumers and clients that you own this product or service. Second, since you register a trademark with the federal government, you can enforce your rights regarding your trademarked product or service in federal courts. That means you can defend your rights anywhere in the U.S. no matter what size business you own. Last, having a registered trademark protects your product or business from foreign competition and is a beginning step in establishing your international rights in case your business goes international.

There are two types of trademarks. Trademarks are used by the owners to identify physical commodities which may be natural or manufactured and which are sold and distributed in the marketplace. Service marks are used to identify services and their providers.

Both types of trademarks are obtained through an application process with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The application can be obtained online and filed on the internet using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). Prior to filing the application, you may want to use TEAS to search existing trademarks online to ensure what you want to trademark has not already been trademarked by another company. Whether you undertake this step or not, staff members of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will undertake this search as part of your application process to ensure your trademark will not infringe on the rights of another.

Once you have filed an application for trademark, you may have to wait for up to six months to be granted the trademark. Registered trademarks last forever unlike patents and copyrights which expire. However, you can lose your trademark if you fail to use it, if the term or name loses its meaning or through improper licensing such as simply giving it away.

Once you obtain approval of your trademark from the federal government, you may use the symbol in all your print and online business pieces.

Obtaining a registered trademark should be part of your overall business plan so that your business benefits from the protections that it offers.

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