Trademark protection is something that every entrepreneur should be aware of, because trademark registration can play a vital role in the process of establishing a brand name.
A trademark refers to a logo, symbol, name or other device that identifies a particular company. In some jurisdictions, such as the United States, a distinction is made between two types of mark; trademarks and service marks. Trademarks identify physical goods that are manufactured, produced, sold and distributed, whilst service marks identify services that are provided by a company or an individual in exchange for payment.
Trademarks are registered by filing an application with the local trademark office. A trademark, once registered, is entitled to use the ® symbol, while unregistered trademarks are sometimes labeled as TM for a trademark or SM for a service mark. A trademark, unlike a patent, can be renewed indefinitely for as long as the company wishes to use it. It is effectively a permanent monopoly right.
A trademark registration means that the company holds the exclusive right to use the image, logo, symbol or name in relation to the type of goods or services for which it was registered. This is an important form of intellectual property. In time, a carefully managed trademark can acquire goodwill, meaning that it is recognized in the marketplace as being indicative of quality goods or services.
As such, it is important for new companies to register their trademarks. To register a trademark or service mark, a company must file a correctly completed application form, pay the appropriate fee and submit a copy of the mark to be registered.
Even if a company decides not to register their trademarks, they may still be entitled to various rights under the common law (so called unregistered trademark rights). Under this regime, an unregistered trademark that has acquired goodwill will be protected from infringing activities. However, it can be difficult to prove goodwill and the ownership of that goodwill. Every business looking to protect its brand name should consider registering a trademark as a way of avoiding the uncertainty associated with common law trademark litigation.