Trademark, patent, or copyright
Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are different types of intellectual property. The USPTO grants patents and registers trademarks. The U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress registers copyrights.
|What’s legally protected?||A word, phrase, design, or a combination that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of your goods or services.||Technical inventions, such as chemical compositions like pharmaceutical drugs, mechanical processes like complex machinery, or machine designs that are new, unique, and usable in some type of industry.||Artistic, literary, or intellectually created works, such as novels, music, movies, software code, photographs, and paintings that are original and exist in a tangible medium, such as paper, canvas, film, or digital format.|
Trademark or brand
A brand is a marketing concept that encompasses how people feel about your product or service. Customers associate certain elements with different brands, such as reputation, image, and emotion. For example, a certain brand might have been developed to encourage you to feel confident, calm, or secure.
On the other hand, a federal trademark registration can provide nationwide legal protection for your brand in connection with particular goods or services. It is your choice whether to protect your brand under trademark law. Many business owners choose to protect their brand names for their main or dominant goods or services. You might also choose to protect a slogan or logo for those goods or services, if you have one.
Deciding what you want to protect and to what extent is up to you. You can have a brand, but decide not to protect that brand by registering it as a trademark. If you choose not to register your brand as a trademark, however, anyone could misuse your brand or create a brand so similar to yours that people can’t tell the difference between them. So, even if consumers want to purchase your products or services because they trust your brand’s reputation, that customer might purchase someone else’s by mistake because they can’t tell the difference between the trademarks.
DISCLAIMER: References to particular trademarks, service marks, certification marks, products, services, companies, or organizations appearing on this page are for illustrative and educational purposes only and do not constitute or imply endorsement by the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or any other federal agency.
Trademark scope of protection
A trademark is always connected to the specific goods or services sold to customers with that trademark. You can’t register a word, phrase, symbol, or design as a trademark without specifically identifying the goods or services being used. Your trademark isn’t limited to one good or service. It can be used with many different goods or services, and include both goods and services.
Although the determination of whether you have goods or services can be confusing, it’s critical that you make the correct identification. Think about it this way: What do customers purchase from you? An actual physical product that bears your trademark? Or do they hire you to perform an activity for them? If it’s products, you have goods. If it’s activities, you have services.
For example, a registered trademark for the name A Good YarnTM for a bookstore would prevent another company from registering the name A Good YarnTM for another bookstore.
By being specific about the goods or services your trademark represents in your registration, you clearly identify the scope of use. You can legally prevent others from using the same or a similar trademark for related goods or services without your permission. Applying for more goods or services than you currently use, or intend to use, is likely to cause your application to be denied. We may inquire as to whether the identification you select accurately identifies your goods or services.
Why register your trademark?
It is your choice whether to file for federal trademark registration. The benefits include:
- Trademark is listed in our database of registered and pending trademarks. This provides public notice to anyone searching for similar trademarks. They will see your trademark, the goods and services on your registration, the date you applied for trademark registration, and the date your trademark registered.
- Right to bring a lawsuit concerning the trademark in federal court. This allows you to sue others who are using your trademark or a too similar trademark anywhere in the country without having to travel to their state to sue them.
- Legal presumption that you own the trademark and have the right to use it. So, in federal court, your registration certificate proves ownership, eliminating the need for copious amounts of evidence.
- Can use your registration as a basis for filing for trademark protection in foreign countries.
- May use the federal trademark registration symbol, ®, with your trademark to show that you are registered with us. This may help deter others from using your trademark or one too similar to yours.
Federal, state, and international registration
How you choose to protect your trademark is up to you. You are not required to register your trademark, but where or whether you decide to register your trademark can determine the scope of your rights. Specifically, you can rely on common law rights or file for state, federal, or international trademark registration.
Common law rights
If you haven’t filed for state or federal registration, your trademark protection is based solely on using your trademark in commerce within a particular geographic area. This limits your rights, as you can only enforce your trademark rights for the specific area where your trademark is used.
State trademark registration
Registering your trademark with your U.S. state creates rights in that state only. Your trademark is not protected if you expand your business across state lines into another state where your trademark is not registered. If you decide to expand your business across state lines, you’ll need to decide if you want to register your trademark in that state or apply for federal registration. Also, not all states have trademark registration databases, which means that third parties will not be aware of your rights in that trademark. It’s your responsibility to prevent others from using your trademark. See more information about state registration requirements.
Federal trademark registration
Registering your trademark with the USPTO creates rights throughout the entire United States and its territories, and includes your registration in our publicly accessible database of registered trademarks. You can use the ® symbol and you can generally rely on those rights to protect your trademark as you expand your business across state lines. However, the USPTO is not an enforcement agency, so you will be responsible for pursuing any infringing users.
International trademark registration
While there is no such thing as a “worldwide trademark” or a “worldwide trademark registration,” you can register your trademark in multiple countries through the Madrid Protocol. This international treaty allows you to file a single application that can then be applied to any of the over 100 member countries, as long as you meet the legal requirements for registration in those countries.
Although the Madrid Protocol creates something called an “international registration,” the registration doesn’t create worldwide rights. The treaty simplifies applying for a trademark registration in different countries, but it doesn’t automatically guarantee your trademark will be registered in each country. Each country’s trademark office will review your application and decide whether your trademark will be registered in that country.
How long does a federal registration last?
Your trademark registration can last forever, so long as you continue to use your trademark in commerce and provide us with evidence that you’re still using it. Specifically, you need to file maintenance documents with fees at prescribed, periodic intervals. For example, you must file a maintenance document after your trademark has been registered for five years.
If you don’t maintain your trademark registration at these intervals, you’ll lose your federal registration and will need to start the application process over. Learn more about maintaining your federal trademark registration.