Many products are household names, and some so popular that they take on the general identity of the product itself. For example, when we ask for a tissue, we may ask for the brand name — a Kleenex. These names, as well as phrases or symbols associated with a product can be protected from unlawful use through a trademark.
What is a trademark?
Trademarks are symbols, phrases or words that are readily known with regards to a specific product. It is a legal way to discern products of a similar kind from one another. Trademarks can be registered, but do not need to be registered to be lawful. Using a trademark keeps competitors from using the trademark holder’s products or services without permission. However, owners of trademarks must use them regularly in order to maintain the protection the trademark brings. In addition, a company cannot use a trademark that is similar to one that is already in use.
How do trademarks differ from other types of intellectual property?
Trademarks are not the same as patents or copyrights. Patents give an inventor the rights to their invention and well as its design and process, but they must be registered. Copyrights give owners of intellectual property exclusive reproduction rights to the property. However, brand names, logos and slogans cannot be copyrighted.
When a company produces a new product or provides a service, they naturally want to distinguish themselves from their competitors, and trademarks are one way to make this happen. However, if a company rushes into creating a trademarked phrase, logo or name they risk making a mark that is too much like an existing one, opening them up to possible litigation. Intellectual property attorneys can be a useful resource for those looking to learn more about trademarks.