Trademarks are non-functional, distinctive source identifiers that are used by entities (typically businesses) in connection with providing goods and/or services. Virtually anything that is capable of operating as a source identifier (i.e., enabling a customer to determine the entity behind a particular product or service) is potentially protectable as some form of a trademark. Examples of trademarks include company names, brand names, logos, tag-lines, jingles, product packaging, product shape, product color, store appearance/decor, etc.

In other words, a trademark is your signature - your means of identifying your products or services to the market. If your products or services have some desirable attribute that keeps customers coming back, you'll want your trademark to be what helps guide them to you (for example, through Internet searching). Your trademark is how your customers will be able to distinguish and select your products or services from those of your competitors. Once your trademark becomes associated with your products or services, it has value. You will have created a brand that carries with it your customers' hopes for and expectations of quality and their desire to find that quality in the products or services provided only by you. As the owner of a trademark, you can take advantage of the value you have built up in your brand by employing the protections afforded by the relevant trademark laws to exclude others - particularly, competitors. This will effectively carve out a portion of the marketplace in which your business can grow and flourish. And unlike a patent or a copyright, if you (or an authorized licensee) continue to use and maintain your trademark, it can last indefinitely.

Though the U.S. has a three-tiered trademark system of common law, state and federal, trademark rights are actually acquired simply by use of the mark in commerce - not by federal or state registration. Use in commerce essentially entails selling, offering to sell, or simply providing products or services bearing your mark. If you were the first to use a particular mark in commerce in a specific geographic region, you may already have a common law right to prevent others from using that mark. However, such common law trademark rights are generally limited to the geographic areas where you have sold and advertised - and even then, the strength of your rights in a given geographic region comes down to how extensively the mark has actually been used in that region. In other words, while common law rights are automatic and free, they tend to be relatively difficult to enforce for many businesses.

Thus, it is preferable to register your trademark as well - either with a given state (if your business is limited to one particular state) or with the USPTO (if your business operates in interstate commerce), in order to strengthen your rights in your trademark, broaden the geographic scope of those rights, and make it relatively easier to enforce those rights against alleged infringers.

Throughout our years of practice, we have handled a wide range of word marks, stylized marks, and trade dress. Additionally, we have a great deal of experience in assisting our clients not only in obtaining cost-effective federal trademark protection, but also international protection, as well as protection within the state of California for those clients who do not provide their products or services in interstate commerce.

For more information on trademarks, please visit our Trademark Resources page.

Otherwise, if you are interested in registering your trademark federally, internationally, or even just in California, please use the menu to the left to learn more about some of the trademark services that we offer. Or feel free to simply call 888-789-5789 or email us to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

Even if you have no desire to protect your trademark, it would still be prudent to perform some due diligence to ensure that your use of that trademark won't infringe any prior third-party trademark rights. Performing these types of clearance searches is also something we are happy to do for our clients, and so we invite you to contact us if for no other reason than to help better ensure that you are free and clear to use a particular trademark.