A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identify a business’s goods and services. Its main purpose is to give customers a way to recognize a business’s goods/services in the crowded marketplace and distinguish them from the goods/services of competitors. The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks, but sometimes the word “service mark” is used for services.
The main purposes of a trademark include identifying the source of a good or service, providing legal protection for a brand, and helping guard against counterfeiting and fraud. A trademark also can provide assurance of quality that allows for sustained consumer loyalty and brand awareness.
A business can become a trademark owner as soon as it begins using the trademarks to market/sell its goods and services. This is sometimes referred to as common law trademark rights. The Common Law rights are limited and may limit protection to the geographic area where the business is providing goods and services. For a business to have stronger, nationwide rights, the business would need to register its trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it is not required to register a trademark though. However, a registered trademark provides broader rights and protections than an unregistered trademark.
When something is trademarked, there is a symbol that goes along with it. This symbol tells consumers and competitors that the business is claiming the trademarks as its intellectual property. Unregistered trademarks may use the TM symbol for goods and the SM symbol for services. Once a trademark becomes registered, the trademark owner may use the ® symbol in connection with the goods or services associated with the trademark. A business may use the registration symbol anywhere around the trademark, though most use it in a superscript or subscript to the right of the trademark. However, the registration symbol with a trademark may only e used in connection with the goods or services identified in the federal trademark registration.
Registered trademarks allow for a business to have the right to marks in a specific goods or services area. For example, if a restaurant trademarks and registers a mark, the restaurant may stop other restaurants or food providers from using the mark nationally, but it does not stop a business in a field unrelated to restaurants (or food) from using a similar mark.