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Patents and Trademarks: Trademarks

Basic patent resources for general research and design ideas


What is a trademark?

A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

Do trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect the same things?

No. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect different types of intellectual property. A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work.

A patent protects an invention. For example, if you invent a new kind of vacuum cleaner, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself.

You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the vacuum cleaner. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial that you use to market the product.

Types of Trademarks

Registered Trademarks refer to trademarks that have been registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Only registered trademarks are permitted to use the r symbol.

State Trademarks as the name suggests, are trademarks that have been registered by a state, not the USPTO.  These trademarks are only valid in the state where they are registered.  State trademarks use the TM symbol.

Common Law Trademarks are trademarks that have not been registered by the USPTO, nor have they been registered in any state.  It is not necessary to register a trademark.  You can establish legal rights simply by using the trademark in commerce.  Common law trademarks use the TM symbol.  State courts have jurisdiction for these trademarks.

Trade Secrets are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. The formula for Coca-Cola is the most famous trade secret.  Trade secrets are protected by state laws, not trademarks or copyrights.

= Registered Trademark

TM = Unregistered Trademark

Word Mark = a type of trademark comprised of text  e.g. stylized capital letter N owned by Univ of Nebraska:

Design Mark = a type of trade mark comprised of an image and/or text; e.g. the University of Nebraska seal:

Trademark basics (USPTO)

The best place to start is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.  The USPTO provides links to all aspects of the trademark process including searching and the application process.