What is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Examples include: brand names, logos, and slogans. A trademark can last forever, so long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services.
Why register a trademark?
Trademarks increase the value of your company; customers and potential buyers are better able to recognize your product and trust its quality. If you’re the creator of a unique product, it’s imperative that you register with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in order to protect yourself from any attempts to mimic your product. In the end, a trademark will save you thousands in legal fees, protect your product from being exploited, and bolster your company’s credibility.
What can be trademarked?
In addition to products, you can also trademark symbols or a string of words unique to your company. As long as a feature isn’t purely functional to the product, virtually any part of your product or service can be trademarked (for example, the design of a desk is functional, but any design ornaments on the desk are artistic and can be copyrighted).
How do you know if your word, phrase, or symbol is already trademarked?
The first place to start is through a search of the USPTO Trademark Search System.
- If you’re entering a serial/registration number use the search type “New User”
- If you want flexibility use the search type “Word and/or Design Mark Search”
- For more accurate results, use quotes around any phrase you search.
- In order to cover all the bases, try searching the plural forms of the words as well as common misspellings or alternative spellings.
- If the word has multiple parts, try it together first. If that doesn’t result in any hits, search the words separately.
- Use “wildcard” characters to expand your search, especially if you don’t find anything after multiple searches. For example, you can insert a character (“$” or “$n”) to expand your search. Let’s use the word “DOG” as an example. If you search “DO$”, the system will search for DOA, DOGG, DOT, etc. This will allow you to see many other trademarks, in order to see if there is anything similar to your attempted trademark.
- Most importantly, keep your search as narrow as possible as to avoid getting too many hits. Start narrow and broaden from there.