Important Basics on Trademarks

What constitutes a trademark? A trademark is a name or sign or design that is used by a business or person to identify them or their products. A trademark can be noted by ®, which stands for a registered trademark; ™, which stands for a trademark that has not been registered; â , which stands for an unregistered service mark.

A person who owns a trademark is allowed to bring legal action against anyone who infringes on it or tries to use it without permission. A person does not have to register a trademark in order to be able to sue for infringement but it is only protected within a specific area in which the name can be reasonably expected to be found. There is a databank of registered trademarks. This can be used to search for a name or design prior to registration. If a trademark is not actively used, it can be considered to be null and void. The period of time allocated for non-use is five years.

In recent years, domain names have clashed with trademark holders about the use of a similar name or mark. The court cases have been able to prove that there is no infringement with a product because the domain name has not product. The only actionable course was whether or not an impression of the product is produced. People rely on trademarks to assure them that an item is legitimate.

A law enacted in 1946 governs trademark law. It is the product owner’s responsibility to watch for trademark infringement. Counterfeit labels, confusion, and dilution constitute trademark infringement.

With the advent of research websites, it was only a matter of time before one was set up as a clearinghouse for searching for and monitoring trademarks. A site called has been set up to search the U.S. and Europe. This gives the researcher access to more than 60 million trademark names and signs.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is in charge of registering trademarks. A website has been set up for searching trademarks and registration of trademarks.

Any word, symbol, design or combination thereof that is used in commerce to distinguish the products of one producer or retailer from another is a trademark. The only two rules are that the mark must be used in commerce and it must be distinctive.

A trademark ceases to be a trademark when it becomes a generic term for a product group rather than just one particular product. Some of those items are: aspirin, cellophane, dry ice, email, escalator, Laundromat, kerosene and zipper.

Trademarks can be renewed as many times as the owner likes as long as they are used in business. The strength of a trademark is a powerful thing. Many companies make purchase decisions based on the name and the reputation of a product and, many times, this is measured by the trademark. A strong trademark holds up better in court than a weaker one that is based on generic words or words that are only descriptive.

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