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How Do Trademarks Work

How Do Trademarks Work? | an Up-to-Date Guide



25 June 20247 min read

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How Do Trademarks Work? | an Up-to-Date Guide

Establishing and protecting your brand identity is crucial in the competitive business world.

Trademarks are vital in distinguishing your products or services from your competitors. This article will guide you through the basics of trademarks, their importance, and the process of securing trademark protection.

But first, what is a trademark?

A trademark is a form of intellectual property that plays a crucial role in business.

It consists of a recognizable sign, design, or expression that identifies and distinguishes the products or services of one business from those of others. What does a trademark protect? It can include various elements such as:

  • Words and phrases: Brand names, slogans, and taglines.
  • Logos and symbols: Visual representations that are unique to the brand.
  • Designs: Distinctive patterns or graphics.
  • Sounds: Audio identifiers like jingles or unique sound bites associated with the brand.
  • Colors: Specific color schemes that are synonymous with a brand (e.g., the red color of Coca-Cola).

The primary function of a trademark is to prevent consumer confusion by clearly indicating the source of goods or services.

This helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions and fosters brand loyalty. 

Trademarks also provide legal protection to the brand owner, ensuring that competitors cannot use similar marks that might dilute the brand's identity or deceive consumers.

A well-chosen and properly protected trademark can become one of a business's most valuable assets, signifying quality, trust, and reputation in the marketplace.

How long does a trademark last?

The duration of trademark protection can vary depending on the type of registration and the actions taken by the trademark owner to maintain it. 

After US trademark registration, the initial registration period lasts ten years from the registration date.

The duration of state trademark registrations varies by state but typically ranges from five to ten years.


To maintain a federal trademark, the owner must file a Declaration of Continued Use (Section 8) between the fifth and sixth years after registration, affirming that the mark is still in use in commerce. 

Additionally, the trademark must be renewed every ten years by filing a Combined Declaration of Use and Application for Renewal (Sections 8 and 9).

As long as the trademark owner continues to use the mark in commerce and meets the renewal requirements, the trademark can be renewed indefinitely. This means that a trademark can theoretically last forever, provided it is consistently used and properly maintained.

Trademark symbols explained

Trademark symbols are crucial tools in branding, signifying the status and level of protection a mark has. There are three primary symbols, each serving a distinct purpose:

1. ™ (Trademarks)

This symbol is used for an unregistered trademark. It indicates that the owner claims the mark as a trademark, even though it has not yet received official registration.

It can be applied to brand names, logos, slogans, and other marks used in commerce.

The ™ symbol notifies others that the owner considers the mark their intellectual property and intends to protect it.

While it doesn't offer the same legal protections as a registered trademark, it establishes the owner's intent to claim rights over the mark.

2. ℠ (Service marks)

This symbol is similar to the ™ symbol but is specifically used for services rather than products.

It's applied to service names, slogans, or logos representing the business's services.

Like the ™ symbol, the ℠ symbol indicates that the owner claims rights over the mark for services.

It serves as a public notice of the owner's claim but doesn’t offer the extensive protections of a registered service mark.

3. ® (Registered trademarks)

This symbol is used for trademarks officially registered with the relevant national trademark office, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

It can be used on brand names, logos, slogans, and other trademarks that have completed the registration process.

The ® symbol signifies that the trademark is federally registered and fully protected. This includes the exclusive right to use the mark nationwide concerning the goods or services listed in the registration.

It also allows the owner to take legal action against infringers in federal court and can deter potential infringers.

Do you get trademark protection automatically?

Trademark protection isn't automatically granted simply by creating or using a mark.

However, some rights come into play when a trademark is used in commerce.

For example:

In many jurisdictions, including the United States, you can acquire certain rights to a trademark by using it in commerce.

These rights are known as common law trademark rights.

Common law rights are typically limited to the geographic area where the mark is used and recognized.

This means that your protection might only extend to the region or locality where your business operates, leaving you vulnerable to conflicts with other businesses using similar marks elsewhere.

While common law rights can provide a basis for legal action against infringers, enforcing these rights can be more challenging and costly without the benefit of official registration.

Federal (official) trademark registration explained

Federal trademark registration is critical for any business seeking to protect its brand nationally.

The process involves several key steps and provides numerous benefits that can significantly enhance the security and value of your trademark.

Before applying, conducting a comprehensive search is essential to ensure that your mark is unique and not already in use. This helps avoid potential conflicts and rejections.

Submit an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or your country's equivalent office.

The application must include detailed information about the mark, the goods or services it will be used with, and proof of its use in commerce or intent to use.

The trademark office will examine your application to ensure it complies with legal requirements and does not conflict with existing trademarks.

This process includes reviewing the mark's distinctiveness and checking for any potentially confusingly similar marks.

If the mark passes the examination, it's published in the official gazette, allowing the public to oppose the registration if they believe it infringes on their rights.

If no opposition is filed or any oppositions are resolved in your favor, the mark proceeds to registration.

The advantages of federal trademark registration

What are the main advantages of federal trademark registration? Let's explore:

  • Nationwide protection: Federal registration grants exclusive rights to use the trademark across the country, regardless of where you do business.
  • Legal benefits: It provides a legal presumption of ownership and validity. This makes it easier to enforce your rights in court and to recover damages and legal fees from infringers.
  • Public notice: Registration serves as public notice of your claim to the trademark, deterring potential infringers and helping to avoid disputes.
  • Use of the ® symbol: For registered trademarks, you can use the ® symbol, which signifies the mark's registered status and offers additional legal protections.

Wondering what trademark registration costs? Read our complete article “How Much Does It Cost to Trademark a Name? — Guide for US and International Filings.”

How do I get my trademark federally registered?

Registering your trademark is a critical step in securing your brand's identity and protecting it from infringement.

The process involves several steps, and having a trademark attorney by your side can make a significant difference in navigating this complex journey.

A trademark registration attorney will conduct a comprehensive trademark search to identify any potential conflicts with existing trademarks. Their expertise ensures that the search is thorough and identifies issues that might not be apparent through basic searches.

They can evaluate the risk of potential conflicts and advise you on the best course of action if similar marks are found.

In addition:

Filing a trademark application involves detailed legal and procedural requirements. A trademark attorney can ensure that your application is accurate, complete, and meets all necessary criteria, reducing the risk of rejection due to errors.

They can help you classify your goods or services correctly, which is crucial for the scope of protection your trademark will receive.

And finally:

If the USPTO or relevant trademark office raises any objections or issues during the examination process, a trademark attorney can craft a compelling response. Their legal expertise can address concerns effectively, increasing the chances of approval.

And, of course, if your mark is published for opposition and a third party challenges it, a trademark attorney can defend your application. They can provide strong legal arguments and negotiate settlements if needed.

Protect your trademark with the help of a trademark attorney

Navigating the trademark registration process can be complex.

A trademark attorney can provide expert guidance, ensuring your application is accurate and increasing the chances of approval (and acquiring federal trademark protection).

At Trademarkia, we specialize in helping businesses protect their brand identity through comprehensive trademark services. 

Contact us today to safeguard your brand and complete your trademark registration online.


How do you legally use a trademark?

To legally use a trademark, you must actively use it in commerce in connection with your products or services, ensuring it's distinctive and not confusingly similar to existing marks.

What are three requirements for trademarks?

  • Distinctiveness: The mark must be unique and distinguishable.
  • Non-descriptiveness: It shouldn't be a generic description of the products or services.
  • Usage in commerce: The mark must be used in commerce to identify the source of goods or services.

What rights does a trademark owner have?

A trademark owner has the exclusive right to use the mark in commerce, prevent others from using similar marks that could cause confusion, and take legal action against infringers.

What cannot be trademarked?

Generic terms, deceptive marks, and marks that are too similar to existing ones cannot be trademarked. Additionally, government symbols and names cannot be registered as trademarks.

Does it cost money to keep a trademark?

Yes, maintaining a trademark involves periodic renewal fees and filing necessary maintenance documents to keep the registration active.

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Meet Trady, Trademarkia's AI "Creative Owl" and the whimsical author behind our blog. Trady isn't just any virtual writer; this lively owl combines inventive wordplay with a deep understanding of trademark law. By day, Trady dives into the latest trademark filings and legal trends. By night, it perches high, sharing trademark wisdom and fun facts. Whether you're a legal expert or a budding entrepreneur, Trady's posts offer a light-hearted yet insightful journey into intellectual property. Join Trady and explore trademarks with wisdom and playfulness in every post!