Trademarks are often confused with copyrights and patents, and a lot of people can’t tell the difference between them. Here, we will discuss everything about trademarks: what they are, how they are different from patents and copyrights, and about different types of trademarks.
A trademark is simply a sign, phrase, word, image, brand, slogan, or any other type of symbol that symbolizes a product or a company. It differentiates it from other products or businesses of its kind. Trademarks are pieces of intellectual property that can help individuals or companies protect their products and denote the exclusivity of their products to themselves.
What is a Trademark?
Trademarks have a long and rich history. Ever since the 13th century, people used trademarks to protect their products. One of the first individuals to do that was Henry III, the King of England, from 1227 to 1272. He wanted to use a trademark for the distinctive type of bread they made and even passed a law called the Trademark Legislation. That law was somewhat primitive and very much different from today’s laws concerning trademarks. It wasn’t until the 19th century that trademark laws started to take shape similar to the rules that we know today.
Generally, trademarks play a crucial role in today’s economy. They help businesses and companies establish trust and enhance their stature. A trademarked logo or brand can help them stand out from their competition. Every company or corporation uses a type of trademark to protect its brand. Most commonly, they use logos. Facebook, Google, Nike, Adidas are just a few of the examples that use logos as trademarks that cannot be used by anyone else. Of course, those companies are big enough to distinguish them from the rest, but for smaller companies, trademarks are just as important.
There are other types of trademarks than just logos. They can also be names, descriptions of the characteristics of the brand, phrases, slogans, certification marks, and much more. One example of a trademark phrase is the McDonalds’ “I’m lovin’ it” phrase, which we already associate with the brand. We can see that trademarks are vital for establishing something unique about our company or brand, and can help us distinguish from the rest within the industry. A trademark also prohibits anyone else from using the images and words you are associating with your products.
Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents
The difference between trademarks, copyrights, and patents often present a source of confusion. It is essential to know that they represent different concepts, even though they are similar in some cases.
Trademarks are a type of intellectual property that can help businesses to distinguish their services or products from other companies within the same field. A brand can include logos, slogans, phrases, graphical elements, sounds, textures, colors, and many more properties, that are vital for creating a unique brand.
Copyrights often come into play with various works of art. It protects artistic pieces of work, which include images, music, art, bits of literature, dramatic pieces of art, films, TV shows, series, and many other similar concepts. They are critical to helping artists and creators of these works to prevent others from copying their work. It is also a piece of intellectual property that can be owned by individuals or companies alike.
Patents, on the other hand, are vital for protecting new inventions and improvements to already existing designs. They are used by individual inventors mainly, and patents give the inventor exclusive rights for marketing and selling the invention. Patents can protect various new machines, unique products, compositions, and processes or mechanisms that these new inventions use. A patent is also a type of intellectual property, and they work only for a certain period (mainly 20 years). Filing for a patent is a much more costly and time consuming process than trademarking your brand.
Why Are Trademarks so Important?
The role of trademarks in modern marketing and business is enormous. Not only do they protect symbols associated with your brand, but they can also help businesses and marketers distinguish their brand and separate them from the rest. They give the brand or a product significance in the world where people look for something distinguishable and unique.
For example, one of the biggest reasons why people choose Apple over other competitors in the field is the marketing and the trademark part of the business. Apple has established itself as a brand worthy of consumers’ trust over many years.
There are many pieces of Apple’s business protected by trademarks. The Apple logo, for instance, is their most significant distinguishing factor, along with the brand name itself.
It helps to know the significance of the various types of trademarks, and when we use them. Trademarks are approved based on their uniqueness and distinctiveness they bring to a brand. Products or concepts that are protected are signified by the “trademark symbol” (™), or by a “registered trademark symbol” (®).
How to Register for a Trademark
Registering for a trademark is not that hard if you have the cash handy and some information about your goods or products. However, getting it approved is a whole different story. Trademark applications can get rejected, mainly because the applicant trademark shares too many similarities with another brand or basic visual concept. Other times, it gets rejected for not being unique, or if it seems too generic or just a description of your products.
Registering for a trademark can be done online through USPTO’s website, which includes filling in forms and providing information about your brand. The whole process takes around ninety minutes, and it can be completed without a lawyer. In some complicated cases, however, hiring a lawyer can help you boost your odds of getting a trademark, especially if you have never done this before.
The most important thing with trademarks is uniqueness, so it is best if you check the TESS database on the USPTO website to see whether the mark that you want to get already exists in one form or another. Then, the next step would be to file the registration forms. You will need to pay the registration fee, which varies from $275 to $325, and then you just provide information about your potential trademarked media. That includes general information: the category of products and the date from when the trademark will be in use.
Next comes the wait for a response from the USPTO, which usually takes around six months from filing.
Types of Trademarks
The types of trademarks are classified by the way they protect or distinguish the brand itself. For example, trademarks can cover everything from logos and phrases, to even the concepts of the brand and the descriptions for it. That is why it is essential to know what types of trademarks exist before you file for a trademark.
While service marks might not be a part of the trademark family, it is still a concept that is similar to trademarks, but different in what they represent. Trademarks are most commonly used for goods or products, while service marks are essential for protecting services. While they may be different from trademarks themselves, they do offer the same protection as the former. For example, the airline Emirates provides a service, which is long haul flights, and for this, its logo receives a service mark for the services it offers. That is distinguished from trademarks, for example, where Apple gives products and goods protected by brands such as the logo.
A useful type of trademark is suggestive marks. These don’t explicitly imply or promote the good or a product; instead, they let one’s imagination identify certain characteristics or specifics about products. The reason that it doesn’t directly promote the product in a way that other trademarks do is that the product itself is a sign of quality. It can be a very effective way to protect a brand and can offer even more distinction and uniqueness. One example is the car company Jaguar which uses the suggestive mark in the logo of a jaguar, which symbolizes speed and agility. That is an example of the qualities that we then project onto our products.
Fanciful marks are the most common type of trademarks, and they can be in the shape of logos, terms, phrases, or imagery that portrays the brand in such a way that it distinguishes it from the rest. The fanciful marks are believed by many to be the easiest to obtain, as they can provide a lot of uniqueness without copying too much from other symbols or concepts. Practically all the most prominent companies and corporations use fanciful marks to protect their brand in one way or another. Brands like Adidas, Nike, Reebok are all excellent examples of how a fanciful mark like a logo can make us associate it with the brand very quickly.
In some ways, arbitrary marks are similar to suggestive marks. They use real-life elements or objects for branding but have little to nothing in common with them. The best example of this is Apple, a tech company that offers a wide range of products. It uses an apple with a bite taken out for branding, but it is practically impossible to associate this brand with an actual apple or think of them as some kind of fruit company. The brand doesn’t have anything to do with the real meaning of the word. That is how arbitrary marks work, and they are different from suggestive marks in the sense that they don’t represent the objects that they use for branding.
Generic, Descriptive, and Merely Descriptive Marks
Usually, generic trademarks are hard to get approved, as they might try to represent a whole host of other brands that are within a specific industry. For example, the name of a supermarket, “The Supermarket” is very generic, and it might clash with just about every other supermarket brand out there. That is why generic brands are very hard to get trademarked, but when they do, they are a stable form of trademarking. Generally, though, these generic marks need to include some description of qualities of products, or their characteristics to receive a trademark.
The role of a descriptive mark is to describe the product in a particular way. For example, a car dealer from New York might have a name “New York Car Dealership Center,” which is a very descriptive type of marking, It tells us explicitly that this is a car dealership in New York. While this type can be somewhat limiting, it can still be useful if one is looking to promote their brand in a specific way. These can also get rejected if the description is too vague and doesn’t offer something unique.
Merely descriptive marks are a bit stronger than generic and descriptive marks, but they are still somewhat weak compared to fanciful or arbitrary marks. In general, merely descriptive marks are used for vaguely describing a quality or a characteristic of a product. They, too, can be quite limiting in some ways but do suit some products well. Merely descriptive marks can be on point and very concise forms of trademarking a brand while conveying a particular image. An example of a merely descriptive mark would be “Best New York Car Dealership Center.” Even though the case is quite vague, it shows that it represents a certain quality of the dealership.
Trade Dress Marks
Trade dress marks refer to those brands or products that have unique packaging and elements associated with them. If the packaging is unique and easily distinguishable from other products in this field, then one can protect them with trade dress protection. While it is not a direct sub-type of trademarks, trade dress protections are beneficial for protecting the packaging design of a product, which is another way to help them stand out among the crowd. An excellent example of this is Listerine, which uses a specific shape of bottles for packaging to make the packaging stand out from other mouth wash products. The bottle itself is often associated with the brand name.
Trademarks are a great place to start as an inventor. They are a low-cost way to start building your brand and getting started with turning your ideas into reality. I suggest you start by finding the right website domain name for your brand and see if you can work your brand name into it. As an example, Trackstick and Soundlazer.com are both brand names and domain names that are associated with my products. It is a good idea if you use the same name for your product brand and website address. It allows customers to recognize your products immediately while establishing trust.