Trademarks & Branding
People often use the word trademark when what the really mean is a mark. Technically, a trademark is for a good, while a service mark is for a service. More broadly, what we are talking about is branding and protecting your brand or corporate identity. The most common way to do this is through applying for a trademark with the USPTO, though states also have registries for marks.
The first confusion to discuss is trademarks versus copyrights. Most people confuse the two, including attorneys. Trademarks protect the company's brand, such as the word Target in the retail world. A copyright can protect the logo. That is, you can have both on the same item providing different types of protection.
The other confusion is confusion in the marketplace. That is the main goal of a trademark, to prevent confusion in the marketplace. That way, when a customer goes to the store and sees Glade brand cleaner, the consumer knows what they are getting. They are getting a protect branded by Glade and can expect a certain quality, versus by the cleaner from Glaad. Using such a brand would be an attempt at passing off, which is what a trademark can guard against.
In order to register your mark, you have to either already be using it in commerce, or file an intent to use it. That is the main point to trademarks, is the usage in commerce to avoid consumer confusion. In fact, in order to keep your mark, you have to keep using the mark in commerce or you will lose it via abandonment.
The other issue one needs to be aware of is ensuring your mark is not already in use by someone else, or something similar is already in use. For instance, you cannot register Ford Automobiles, as the Ford Motor Company would be too similar of a mark. You can conduct your own search to ensure no conflicts, or hire a firm to conduct a search for you.
Once you decide to register, the process is fairly straight forward to an attorney who practices in this area of law. The only difficult part is the process with the USPTO takes a long time, as in more than six months, and that assumes no problems with the registration. We charge a flat $450 to register a single classification mark.
After the United States Patent & Trademark Office issues your mark, then you get to use the circle R registered mark symbol, but not before. Then, to keep your mark, you have to pay periodic maintenance fees, in addition to using the mark in commerce.
This is just a small introduction to trademarks. If you have more questions or need advice, call Stevens & Legal.