coffee with idea lightbulb in foamWe have all heard the term before: “Coca Cola has trademarked its logo” or a certain celebrity “trademarked a catch phrase.” But what exactly is a trademark?

At its most basic, a trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller’s products and distinguish them from the products of another. Trademarks are valuable because the brands who create them use them in a matter to not only advertise the quality of their goods or services but to foster goodwill within its customer market. Trademarks allow for a business’s products to be easily identified by consumers.

For example, the trademark “Nike,” along with the Nike “swoosh” symbol help consumers identify the shoes made by Nike. In that same vein, both the Nike name and its logo differentiate Nike shoes from those of other companies in the same market.

Another example? The trademark “McDonald’s” and its “golden arches” distinguishes the fast-food chain from other competing fast food chains on the market. When a mark is used to identify services (e.g. “Roto-Rooter”) rather than products, they are called service marks. Service marks are generally treated the same as any other trademark.

Sometimes, trademark protection can extend beyond words, symbols, and phrases to include other aspects of a product, such as its color or its packaging or even a sound. One example is the NBC “three chimes” sound the broadcast network usually has play either before or after it airs a program. NBC has registered the chime sound as a service mark.

Other trademark examples that go beyond words or symbols includes the unique shape of a Coca-Cola bottle or the special “Tiffany blue” that the jewelry chain uses to identify itself.

Sometimes marks like these fall under the term “trade dress,” rather than an actual trademark. However, they may still be protected if consumers associate the particular design item with a specific manufacturer and not with simply a particular type of product. It depends; if such a feature is purely functional, meaning that the item simply works better due to a certain design, it may not be protected as a trademark (perhaps it can be patented, though).

Trademarks are distinguished from patents. A patent is related to a process, design, mechanics or existence of the patented invention. Trademarks are focused on the branding of the product, rather than the product itself.

Trademarks are distinguished from copyrights, too. Copyrights attach to the words, music or art itself (i.e. no one else may copy that book, song or painting and use it for themselves). Some trademarked things may be patented and copyrighted as well. But they are distinct types of intellectual property.

By making goods easier to identify, trademarks give companies the incentive to invest in the quality of their goods or services. If a certain product is easily identifiable on the market but the quality of the product is lacking, the consumer market will quickly know this and associate that poor quality with the trademarked brand. So once a branch gains traction, a business will invest in it to keep the product and brand positive; the trademark is meant to protect that investment.

Fostering a trademark can set a business on a path to success so long as the trademark is protected and the quality of the goods and services is consistently maintained.

In the next post in this series, we explain further the types of trademarks.

If you are looking to trademark your product or service’s branding, Bellatrix PC’s Trademark Package may be for you. Click here to take the first step towards protecting your investment in your business.

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