Understanding Trademarks and Service Marks

When you own a home-based or other small business, business opportunity or franchise, or are commencing a new business opportunity, the words, names, phrases, symbols and logos you use to identify your company and all that it stands for are your brand. They are what defines you and sets you apart. They allow you to create a reputation for yourself and your company that no other party can diminish. As a whole or in part, they are your trademark™ or service mark℠.

Trademarks and service marks are what enable the consuming public to identify the products and/or services of one manufacturer or seller from another. The Nike “swoosh,” coupled with its unmistakable slogan “Just do it,” is a prime example of a trademark in that together they represent a product in the form of shoes, clothing, etc. The “golden arches” in concert with the name and style of the restaurant name McDonald’s constitute a service mark given that the company is a titan in the food service industry.

Trademarks and service marks are in essence the same thing and as such are often referred to interchangeably as “trademarks,” but they provide just one form of intellectual property protection. Copyrights and patents serve a similar purpose and yet are distinctly different. Copyrights provide protection to the authors of original works of both published and unpublished material, whether it is literary, dramatic, musical or artistic. Patents are issued for inventions and grant property rights to the inventor.

Although there are two types of rights when it comes to trademarking―the right to register and the right to use―the right to use can be very difficult to determine, especially if two parties begin using the same trademark around the same time. In that instance, the battle to decipher who got there first is on and can get sticky. Therefore the safest bet if you want to ensure you have the rights to your own trademark is to go through the registration process.

Although it will require some time and money, making sure your trademark is yours and yours alone comes with a number of very important benefits that make it all worthwhile. Should your trademark request be granted, it will:

• Alert the consuming public of your claim to ownership of the mark, including your listing in the United States Patent and Trademark office’s databases

• Give you the right to use the federal registration symbol

• Provide a legal presumption of nationwide ownership and protect you from foreign product infringement, and

• Give you the exclusive and legally defensible right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods and services set forth upon registration.

Fortunately, the process to register your trademark is fairly straightforward and affordable. While using an attorney to navigate the registration system is not entirely necessary, obtaining some sort of support is preferable in that it will protect you from any potential pitfalls.

Online resources like LegalZoom in particular can often streamline the process and make it far less daunting than if you go it alone. The company’s complete trademark package costs just $189 plus the filing fee and takes you through every step beginning with the initial application and database search for potential trademark conflicts all the way through to writing a press release announcing your approved trademark registration to the public.

Moreover, LegalZoom offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee to its trademark registration customers, which is an expression of confidence that springs from a proven track record of success.  In fact, more U.S. trademarks were filed through LegalZoom than through the top 20 law firms combined in 2010.

Now that’s experience!

If you’d like answers to the most frequently asked questions about trademarks, go to https://www.uspto.gov/faq/trademarks.jsp, or go to LegalZoom.com to learn more about their trademark registration services today!