An Introduction to Trademarks
This blog post contains a transcript from a video presentation. This content is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. No attorney-client privilege is created.
Trademarks specifically apply to branding. A trademark applies to things that uniquely identify the source of a product or service. Their purpose is to allow customers to know exactly who they are getting their goods and services from. They most commonly include brand names and product names. Trademarks can also, in some cases, apply to logos, slogans or sounds if it can be shown that they uniquely identify a product. Ex: Brand Names (Apple, Microsoft, Google), Logos (Nike swoosh), and Slogans (“I’m Loving It” – McDonalds)
When to use
Simply put, the name of your Brand, Company and Products should be protected with Trademarks. Keep in mind that a trademark will only protect those names, but not the actual content which you created.
The purpose of trademarks is to protect consumers and business owners. They protect consumers by providing assurance that when a consumer sees a certain mark or name, they can be comfortable in knowing exactly who is providing the product or service. They protect business owners by preventing copycats and frauds from stealing their business identity and profiting from the rightful businesses good reputation.
It’s true that some protections automatically apply to works as soon as they are created, or to brands as soon as they are established. However, these protections are very limited and mostly ineffective. In addition, they are expensive and time consuming to enforce.
For example, if someone infringes on a trademark the only way to get them to stop is to begin a lawsuit. In the lawsuit you will have to prove that you own the trademark, and why you deserve it ahead of the other person. Even if you have a clearly winning case, the lawsuit will take many months (or even years) and will cost at least tens of thousands of dollars in court and legal fees.
The other option is to apply for a federal trademark registration (depending on what you are trying to protect) as soon as the brand becomes real.
Once you have a registration, if a person or company infringes on your trademark then you can easily shut them down. The registration gives you automatic rights which nobody else can claim. If a businesses refuses to stop their infringing activity, all it takes is a simple legal action and they will be forced to shut down. Also, in many cases the business or person in violation may be forced to pay fines directly to you for infringing on your trademark.
As you can see, trademarks are extremely valuable for any business. If you are operating an online business they become even more valuable. It’s no secret that trademark theft runs rampant when it comes to online businesses, and many times people will try to claim ownership in trademarks that they don’t really have a right to.
Without a registration the problems become magnified ten-fold. With all the different businesses out there, and even more popping up, it can be difficult to determine exactly what date someone started using a trademark. If you don’t have a registration then there’s a good chance you will be forced to share ownership rights with other businesses, or lose your ownership rights altogether.
On the other hand, a federal registration is hard proof that you are the owner of a trademark, and it provides the exact date you started using it. You will never have to worry about losing your ownership rights to any other business, and will easily be able to prevent others from ripping you off.