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Trademark 101: What is a Trademark?

Welcome to the first day of class! Before we get into the nitty gritty of trademarks, let’s go back to the beginning. And the beginning of the beginning is defining what a trademark is and what a trademark is not.

Here’s what the USPTO says: “A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.”

So, that’s clear, right? Mmhm, thought so. Let’s simplify this a bit.

First things first, we’re going to use the word trademark regardless if we’re talking about a business that sells products (i.e. goods) or services. Keep that in mind please.

Simply put, a trademark protects names, logos, or a combination thereof that are used for goods and/or services. Let’s break that down even further using examples:

·         PEACE is the name of your new clothing line and your logo is the peace sign. Both of these things appear on the tags that are attached to the clothing items. You have a variety of designs and sayings that appear on the front of your clothing items, e.g. the front of a t-shirt.

·         LOVE is the name of your daycare services. Your slogan, Love blooms here, appears on the web site, the brochures for new parents, the signage inside & outside of the facility. There are also multiple heart designs, created by you, used in your advertisements and on t-shirts worn by staff.

·         HAPPINESS is the name you use for your invention, a new kind of food processor. You have stacks & stacks of technical documents explaining how your invention works and every page has the name at the top.

What do you think could be a trademark? What isn’t?

Name & heart logo as shown on the tags
Designs & sayings on the front of the clothing
Name; slogan since it identifies the services and is used in the offering of those services
Multiple heart designs
Name of the food processor
Technical documents

As you can see, the common denominator for those possible trademarks is that (1) they are names or logos or slogans and (2) are used to identify the source of the products (i.e. goods) and services. This last point is often a sticky wicket for folks. Let’s break these examples down even further to differentiate the source from the goods/services created.

PEACE and the logo identify the source (the clothing line) of the goods (the individual clothing items with the designs & sayings on them)

LOVE and the slogan identify the source (the daycare) of the services. In other words, that’s the name & slogan of the business.

HAPPINESS identifies the source of the tangible good (the food processor). This is the name that will be on the product itself, the tags, labels, packaging, etc.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what a trademark is not and, furthermore, how the examples of non-trademarks can be protected.


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