How trademark protection works

Glenn W. Peterson

According to the International Trademark Association, a trademark is a phrase, word, symbol or design, or a combination of these things, that helps identify and distinguish one party’s goods from others. While not compulsory, registering a trademark with the USPTO has many advantages. This includes a legal presumption of ownership throughout the U.S., a notice to the public that the registration of the mark has occurred and the exclusive right to use the mark in or on the goods that the owning business listed during registration.

Once a trademark is created, whether the business decides to register it or not, federal laws provide those businesses with certain protections. Under these laws, any business other than the owner of the trademark is prohibited from using that mark, or one with sufficiently similar characteristics, to promote the sale of their own goods and services. However, the holders of unregistered marks often experience more difficulty when trying to pursue legal action for unauthorized use of their trademarks. This is largely due to an inability of the infringing party to properly search for and find unregistered marks. It is generally held that businesses may not be held liable for infringing on a mark that they did not know previously existed.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office states that Businesses must maintain their mark’s protected status by actively using the mark, and by actively pursuing any matters of infringement that they believe to be more than inconsequential or minor. It should be noted, however, that although the USPTO registers these marks, they are not responsible for any type of enforcement in regards to infringement. It is the registering party’s responsibility to enforce their rights and bring legal action against anyone who may be using potentially infringing mark.