A trademark identifies a product’s source. It helps customers differentiate your business from competitors. If you develop a good reputation, customers know they can trust products bearing your trademark.
Service marks are close cousins to trademarks and serve a similar purpose. They just identify the source of services, instead of goods.
But not all logos or business names qualify for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the accompanying protections. Consider these factors to select and protect your mark.
Make sure it is not already in use.
You cannot register a mark that too closely resembles a competitor, since that would make it hard for consumers to differentiate the source of goods or services. Conduct a thorough trademark search before committing to a mark.
Make sure it is distinguishable.
You want your trademark to be considered arbitrary or fanciful. If your mark simply describes the products you produce or services you provide (e.g., Delicious Ice Cream, Effective Marketing Solutions), it can be considered “merely descriptive,” which means you may not be able to register it or benefit from legal protection.
Make sure you register the trademark.
Register it in your state, which will document the first date it was used. Then once you begin using it in interstate commerce, register it with the USPTO.
Always use the ™ or ® symbol.
Prior to registration with the USPTO you should always use the ™ symbol. Once you obtain a certificate of registration for your trademark from the USPTO, you should use the ® each time the mark is used in commerce.
Use the mark consistently.
Trademarks (and accompanying symbol) should appear on all products and/or their packaging. Service marks should appear on all ads, promotional materials, your website, and signs.
The marks should appear clearly and exactly as registered. Make sure it stands out from surrounding text, and don’t make any changes or use variations. Consistency is key for enforcement.
Use your trademark or service mark as a proper adjective.
Marks should not be used as a noun or in the possessive or plural form (unless the mark itself is already plural or possessive). This may seem like a small issue, but if the public starts using your brand names as a generic name, you can lose your rights.
Here are just a few examples of past company names that are now considered generic terms in the United States: corn flakes, yo-yo, thermos, dry ice, trampoline, zipper, and kerosene.