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Information about trademarks, service marks, and related matters.
Last Updated: Nov 19, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, used by a business to identify a product and distinguish it from other products.

A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes a service rather than a product. The term trademark—or the term mark—can be used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

A trade name is a word, phrase, style, or symbol used to identify a business as a whole rather than a product or service of that business. A trade name is a means of establishing goodwill towards the business and symbolizes the business’s reputation.

Trade dress is the overall image a product, service, or business has in the marketplace. For a product, trade dress usually refers to the look and feel of its packaging and labeling. For a service or business, trade dress may refer to the way the place of business is designed and decorated. The distinctive, nonfunctional aspects of packaging, labeling, design, and decor may be protected by the law of unfair competition.

A registered trademark is a trademark that has been filed and recorded with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or an equivalent state office (usually the Secretary of State). Registering a trademark makes public the owner’s claims to the mark and entitles the possessor to collect more damages in a lawsuit. Federal trademark registrations are for periods of 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely as long as the mark continues to be used.

A trademark is different from either a copyright (which protects an original artistic or literary work) or a patent (which protects an invention).

General Information About Trademarks

  • Frequently Asked Questions about Trademarks
    This online FAQ provides definitions for trademark terminology and answers several frequently asked questions in nontechnical language.
  • Trademark Law -
    Okay, you came up with a great business name or logo. You want to use it as your company's trademark (or service mark if you offer services). How do you make sure you're not infringing another trademark owner's rights? How do you file a federal trademark application? How do you do a trademark search? Learn trademark principles and protect your name.
  • Trademarks: The Fingerprints of Commerce
    This educational guide explains the importance of trademark and federal registrations and includes educational activities and advice for educators.
  • All About Trademarks
    Excellent collection of links to trademark resources and to more general intellectual property resources. Includes general explanatory information; links to information about federal, state, international, and foreign trademarks; links to journals and organizations related to trademarks; and related information about copyright, unfair competition, computer, multimedia, advertising, international trade, and trade secret law.
  • Patent and Trademark Tactics and Practice
    This book was written by a registered, practicing patent attorney to provide a practical explanation of the fundamental principles of intellectual property for inventors and businesspersons, without dwelling on complex legal issues.
  • Patent, Copyright, and Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference
    A plain-English guide to the laws that protect inventions, creative expression, business names, and much more. Includes overviews of all intellectual property categories, definitions of key terms, and the full text of important statutes.
  • Trademark: Legal Care for your Business Product and Name
    All the step-by-step, plain English instructions you need to conduct a trademark search, choose a name, protect a trademark, and resolve disputes.
  • A Glossary of Naming Terms
    Explanations of terms that come up frequently in discussing trademarks.

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