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What is a trademark in US?

What is a Trademark in the US?

What is a Trademark in the US?

When you think of popular brands, it’s likely that iconic logos or catchphrases spring to mind first, like the swoosh of Nike or Apple’s Bitten Apple. These memorable symbols are not just designs but trademarks that these companies have consistently applied across their branding efforts. Securing these identifiers with official trademark registration does more than safeguard legal rights; it equips businesses with a powerful visual asset to engage with their audience. Let’s explore trademarks and how they can benefit your business.

What Exactly Is a Trademark?

A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination, uniquely identifying and representing a business’s goods or services. The distinguishing feature sets a brand apart in the crowded marketplace, enabling consumers to recognize and prefer one brand over others. Trademarks are not limited to logos or names; they can extend to sounds, colours, and even smells as long as they fulfil the role of signifying a particular source of goods or services.

In the US, the term “trademark” encompasses both trademarks and service marks—the former applies to goods, while the latter is associated with services. Despite this distinction, the fundamental purpose remains the same: to indicate the source and ensure a brand’s uniqueness.

What can be trademarked?

As mentioned above, You can trademark things that help people recognize your business, such as:

  • Your business’s name
  • Names of your products
  • Your logo or brand design
  • Unique symbols or designs
  • Special sounds linked to your brand
  • The look of your product packaging

Know more about What Can and Cannot be Trademarked in US?

The Functionality of a Trademark

A trademark is pivotal in business, serving as more than just a legal protection mechanism. It is intertwined with the very fabric of a brand’s identity, consumer perception, and market positioning. Here are the detailed functionalities of a trademark within a business context:

Brand Recognition and Identity

  • Unique Identity: Trademarks provide a unique identity to products or services, allowing them to stand out in a crowded marketplace. This distinctiveness is crucial for establishing a brand’s presence and ensuring that it is easily recognizable by consumers.
  • Consistent Image: Through the consistent use of a trademark across various platforms and products, businesses can maintain a coherent image that reinforces brand identity and values in the consumer’s mind.

Legal Protection

  • Exclusive Rights: A registered trademark grants the owner exclusive rights to use it in connection with the goods or services it is registered for, which helps prevent unauthorized use by competitors.
  • Basis for Legal Action: In cases of infringement, where another party uses a similar mark in a way that could confuse consumers, the trademark provides a legal basis for the original owner to take action to protect their brand.

Market Differentiation and Consumer Trust

  • Differentiation in the Market: A trademark helps differentiate a brand’s products or services from competitors, making it easier for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.
  • Building Consumer Trust: Over time, a trademark becomes associated with a certain level of quality and expectation. This association builds consumer trust, as customers are more likely to return to a familiar brand that they associate with a positive experience.

Asset Value and Business Growth

  • Valuable Asset: A solid and recognisable trademark can become a valuable intangible asset, contributing significantly to the business’s overall value. This value can be crucial in business transactions such as mergers, acquisitions, or licensing agreements.
  • Foundation for Expansion: Trademarks can serve as a foundation for expanding a business in terms of product lines and geographic reach. A well-established trademark can pave the way for entering new markets and launching products under the same trusted brand umbrella.

Deterrence and Enforcement

  • Deterrent Effect: A registered trademark deters potential infringers who might consider using a similar mark, thereby protecting the brand’s market position.
  • Enforcement Tools: Besides serving as a deterrent, a trademark provides the tools necessary for enforcement against unauthorized use, including injunctions, damages, and other legal remedies.

In summary, a trademark’s functionality in business extends far beyond its role as a legal identifier. It is a multidimensional tool that supports brand building, market differentiation, legal enforcement, and business growth, making it an indispensable asset for any enterprise.

Common Misconceptions

There’s a common misconception that owning a trademark grants exclusive rights to a word or phrase, allowing you to prevent others from using it under any circumstances. However, your rights are specific to the context of your goods or services. For example, if you trademark a logo for your woodworking shop, it doesn’t mean you can forbid others from using a similar logo in unrelated industries.

Also, thinking that an effective trademark must describe what you sell or do is a mistake. In reality, the most powerful trademarks are creative and unique, as they stand out in the marketplace and are simpler to defend legally.

The Difference Between Owning and Registering a Trademark

Simply using a trademark in connection with your products or services automatically makes you the trademark owner. This usage grants you certain rights to the trademark, but these rights are geographically restricted to where you offer your products or services. To secure expansive, nationwide rights, you must formally register your trademark.

Registration of your trademark is not mandatory, but it significantly enhances the scope of your rights and protections compared to an unregistered trademark.

How do you protect a trademark?

Protecting a trademark involves using it in business to indicate where your goods or services come from. While registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) doesn’t automatically protect a trademark, it offers significant benefits. Here’s how trademarks can be protected:

  • Common Law Protection: Simply by using your mark in business, you may have ‘common law’ rights to it, especially in the areas where you’re actively doing business. If there’s a dispute, you must prove you were the first to use the mark in those areas.
  • State Protection: If you register your trademark at the state level, you can protect it within that state. This doesn’t cover you nationwide but can add a layer of security where your business operates.
  • Federal Protection: Registering your trademark with the USPTO gives you rights across the entire U.S. It sets a clear date for when you started using your mark and comes with other legal advantages, making it easier to defend your trademark nationwide.

Know more about Types of US Trademark Registration

Trademark symbols – TM, SM, and ®

 The symbols TM (for goods) and SM (for services) can be used to assert a claim over a trademark, regardless of registration status.  

 “TM” (Trademark) 

Used for goods, the “TM” symbol indicates that the mark it accompanies is being claimed as a trademark. This symbol can be used without any formal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and it signals to others that you are claiming rights to the mark in relation to your products. It’s often used while a trademark application is pending or when a business chooses not to register its trademark.

“SM” (Service Mark)

 Similar to the “TM” symbol used for services instead of goods, the “SM” symbol signifies that the mark it accompanies is being claimed as a service mark. Like “TM”, it can be used without formal registration with the USPTO and is intended to assert rights in a mark used in the advertising or selling services.

“®” (Registered Trademark)

 The “®” symbol denotes that a trademark or service mark has been officially registered with the USPTO. Unlike “TM” and “SM,” this symbol should only be used after the USPTO has granted a registration certificate for the mark. Using the “®” symbol with a mark not officially registered in the United States is a federal offence.

Each of these symbols plays a crucial role in trademark protection strategies, helping businesses to communicate their rights and protect their brand identity in the marketplace.

Procedure for Register Your Trademark in the US

Registering a trademark in the United States involves several steps, each crucial for securing legal protection for your brand’s symbols, names, or logos. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the US trademark registration process:

Trademark Search

Before applying, conducting a comprehensive trademark search is essential to ensure your proposed trademark isn’t already in use or registered for related goods or services. This can be done using the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) and may involve consulting with a trademark attorney to interpret search results accurately.

Filing the Application

Once you’ve confirmed your trademark is unique, the next step is to apply with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This can be done online through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). The application requires detailed information, including:

The trademark you wish to register.

  • The goods or services the trademark will be used with.
  • The basis for filing (use in commerce or intent to use).
  • A specimen showing the trademark as used in commerce (if applicable).

USPTO Review

After submission, a USPTO examining attorney reviews the application to ensure compliance with all regulations, including the Lanham Act. The review process assesses the trademark’s distinctiveness, potential conflicts with existing trademarks, and adherence to formal requirements.

Office Actions

If the examining attorney identifies issues with the application, they will issue an Office Action, a document outlining any refusals or requirements. The applicant must respond to an Office Action within six months to avoid abandonment of the application.

Publication for Opposition

Once preliminary approval is granted, the trademark is published in the Official Gazette, a weekly publication by the USPTO. This gives third parties a 30-day window to oppose the registration if they believe it would infringe on their rights.

 Notice of Allowance or Registration

A Notice of Allowance is issued if the application is based on “intent to use” and there are no oppositions. The applicant then has six months to submit a Statement of Use, showing the trademark in commercial use, along with a specimen.

If the application was based on “use in commerce” and there are no oppositions, the trademark is directly registered after publication.

Statement of Use (For Intent-to-Use Applications)

Applicants who filed based on an intent to use must submit a Statement of Use, demonstrating the trademark’s use in commerce with the goods or services listed in the application, accompanied by a trademark specimen as used.

Trademark Registration

Upon satisfactory review of the Statement of Use or if the application was initially based on use in commerce, the USPTO issues a registration certificate, and the trademark is officially registered.

Maintaining the Registration

To maintain the registration, specific documents and fees must be submitted at regular intervals:

  • A Declaration of Use between the 5th and 6th year after registration.
  • Renewal every 10 years.


It’s the trademark owner’s responsibility to enforce their trademark rights. The USPTO registers trademarks but does not enforce their use in the marketplace.

The US trademark registration process is detailed and can be complex. It is often recommended that you work with a trademark attorney to navigate the process, respond to Office Actions, and ensure that your trademark is adequately protected.

 IndiaFilings experts are here to guide you through the trademark registration process and ensure a smooth and successful submission for your brand.

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