What Is a Trademark? Definition and Guide

What is a trademark

A trademark is a unique symbol or word(s) used to represent a business or its products. Once registered, that same symbol or series of words cannot be used by any other organization, forever, as long as it remains in use and proper paperwork and fees are paid.

Unlike patents, which are granted for a period of 20 years, trademarks never end. Companies must apply for a trademark and receive ownership confirmation from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to claim protection from copycats.

Over time, trademarks become synonymous with a company name. Think of the apple shape with the bite taken out that Apple uses as its logo, the swoosh that Nike features on all its products, or the golden arches of McDonald’s.

The fact that we so easily associate symbols and words with companies and their brands is one of the biggest advantages of their use. When a customer sees a familiar logo or phrase, they have instant recognition, which can drive preference and, ultimately, sales.

Symbols for a trademark

To indicate that a trademark has been claimed, companies use one of three symbols:

  1. ™ - Using the trademark symbol after a logo or phrase alerts competitors that you have claimed this symbol or phrase as your own, but you may not have formally applied for it.
  2. ® - Only trademarks that have been officially granted by the Trademark office can use the ® symbol, which stands for registered trademark.
  3. ℠ - Companies that sell services, not products, have the option to use the service mark logo, but most use the ™ instead, for simplicity.

Protecting a trademark

Although a trademark is issued for the life of a company or product, businesses must guard against phrases becoming generic. This typically happens over time, when people use a company’s product name to mean all products or processes like it.

Think Kleenex used for facial tissues, or Xerox for photocopying. To continue to claim that trademark, those companies must ask people who misuse the term to stop.

Benefits of trademark registration

Once a trademark has been granted, the owner receives three key benefits:

  1. A notice of claim to any other businesses thinking of using the same symbol or word as its trademark
  2. A legal presumption of ownership, which can help fend off would-be users
  3. The exclusive right to use the claimed trademark

Filing a trademark application

The process of filing for trademark registration is fairly simple. It can be done online through the Trademark Electronic Application System and, as of late 2022, cost between $250 and $350.

What Is a Trademark? FAQ

What is the purpose of a trademark?

A trademark is a type of intellectual property that helps to protect your brand by distinguishing it from competitors. It is used to protect the name, logo, or slogan associated with a product or service from being used by others without permission. A trademark can also be used to help customers identify a brand or product.

What is the difference between copyright and a trademark?

Copyright protects an original work of authorship such as a literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic work, while a trademark protects words, names, symbols, or devices that are used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one company from those of another.

What is an example trademark?

An example trademark is the Nike swoosh logo.