Intellectual property is a valuable asset. Many enterprises have some sort of unique identification that helps them stand out from other businesses for purposes of advertising. Whether your business is large or small, knowing the right way to protect your brand identity will definitely pay off. Most business owners are aware of trademarks. However, there are other types of brand protections, such as service marks, that can be useful too.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark can be any word, phrase, slogan, logo, graphic, or symbol that identifies a brand. It immediately lets the public know that a particular company produces certain products and goods. Simply put, trademarks are typically brand names. For instance, if a pair of shoes have the "swoosh" symbol on them, most individuals will immediately know who made them. Similarly, if a soda can is red and white and has Coca-Cola's well-known font and logo on it, then it is obvious to most which brand produced that particular drink.
Many businesses register their trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). But why is doing so important? Trademark registration provides owners with the exclusive right to use the protected material. That being the case, if someone else attempts to copy or closely mimic a registered trademark, the registered owner can pursue legal action against the offender by way of a “cease and desist” order or perhaps monetary compensation.
Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses the mark without permission and the source of the goods would be confusing to average consumers. A simple example would be in the case of a new, up-and-coming fast food restaurant using golden arches to sell their burgers and shoestring fries. Such a case would probably result in a determination being made against the new fast food restaurant for infringing on McDonald’s trademark.
When using trademarks, it is a good idea to denote that the material at issue is protected by always typing a ® symbol (if it is a registered trademark) or the letters ™ if it is not.
What Are Service Marks?
Service marks essentially have the same function as a trademark. However, service marks are used by service providers instead of vendors of goods and they distinguish the services of the company from those provided by other companies.
For instance, there are many companies with well-known service marks, such as UPS, Federal Express, Google and Uber. It should be noted that service marks provide the same brand and image protection as trademarks. As a matter of fact, the word “trademark” is often used to include service marks too.
The USPTO also handles service mark registration and the same legal penalties apply in cases involving infringement. Service marks should be identified when printed in the same way as previously mentioned above for trademarks (i.e., using the ® symbol for a registered service mark, or the letters “SM” if it is not).
Business owners can handle the registration process themselves or seek help from a knowledgeable intellectual property professional. Registration costs for each type of mark will depend on their complexity.