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Trademark Basics


A trademark is a word, symbol, phrase or design or a combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or products of one party from another.  To identify and distinguish the source of the goods means the consumer will mentally associate the mark affixed on the goods with the source of the goods or producer when observing the word, symbol, phrase or design or a combination thereof.   A trademark can also include color or packaging, however these features cannot be central to the product’s use or purpose, affect the product’s cost or quality or put competitors at a significant non-reputation related disadvantage.   Trademark law rewards the one to first use a distinctive mark in commerce.  The reward or property right is to prevent others from using the mark.

Difference between Trademark, Copyright and Patent:

Trademarks and patents can both be registered and protected under federal law at the United States Protection Office (USPTO).  However, patents protect a party’s scientific creation or invention and registration has a limited duration, whereas trademarks protect any affixed mark as long as it maintains its distinctiveness to identify and distinguish the source of the goods of one from another.  Copyrights may be protected by and registered with the United States Copyright Office (a division of the Library of Congress) for works of original authorship such as writings, music, and works of art in tangible form.

For example, on the General Motors website, the company states that all of the substantive content on their website is protected as a copyright.  GM’s logos (including their car line logos of Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac etc.) are protected as a trademark.  Any new innovations in the mechanics and design plans of their vehicles would be protected by patents (the original basic plan to make a car would not be protected as that is public information now).

What does a trademark protect?

A trademark protects the mark owner’s right to prevent others from using his mark, which means the mark owner has an enforceable right to be the only person to use his mark.

What does a trademark not protect?

Trademark laws do not protect descriptive, deceptive and likely confusing marks.  Trademark laws also do not extend outside of the United States; however, the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) offer an international registry to avoid the need to register separately at each national or regional office.


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