We’re not necessarily talking about Elvis’ trademark sideburns or Catherine Hepburn’s trademark voice, but that’s not too far from the path.
They’re everywhere you look, and yet do you really know what they are? Trademarks are a strange animal and it’s necessary that you get to know them if you have business endeavors of any kind. Whether you’re making your own trademark or using other trademarks, there’s a whole lot to learn.
The definition of trademark is a pretty simple one. It’s only later that the topic gets complicated. Basically, a trademark is just a sign of some kind that distinguishes a company from all the rest. Trademarks sit under the umbrella of “intellectual property.” A trademark can come in many different forms. Maybe it’s am image or a a turn of phrase. Paris Hilton was recently poked fun at for trademarking the phrase “that’s hot.” Indeed, there’s a lot of controversy over what can and should be trademarked.
Are you thinking about buying some intellectual property? If you do, you will be able to take people to court if they use your trademark without permission. It’s important that your company has a signature and unless it’s protected, it’s useless and can be used by just about anyone. A trademark might seem a simple concept enough, but if you overlook the issue, it could cost you a lot down the road.
When talking about trademarks, you’re bound to get into some murky water. For instance, some marks, logos, phrases, images, etc, become trademarks over time, if by chance they simply grow to become synonymous with a particular product or service. When we think of trademarks in this way, it’s pretty apparent that a trademark is not a narrow concept at all. Anything that conspicuously distinguishes something from something else, in a sense, can technically be a trademark.
What about those little circles with the “TM” and “R” in them? What do they mean? The “TM” refers to trademark and the “R” refers to a registered trademark. While they serve as gentle reminders that the trademark is protected by law, they aren’t necessary. There are both unregistered and registered trademarks out there, the latter obviously carrying more weight in a court of law. Most of the trademarks you see on TV and in magazines are registered.
Just as with physical property, intellectual property – when handled in court – is dealt with based on its jurisdiction.
There are five basic kinds of trademarks: distinctive, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive, and generic. On the other hand, there are some symbols that can never be used in trademarks, like national flags. It’s also important to note that national and international trademark law vary, so especially if you are conducing business overseas, you should be aware of that.
A trademark can open your company up to all kinds of business and separate it from the pack, but if it’s not formed carefully, it may misrepresent and misdirect your company. So choose your trademark intelligently and make sure you understand the law backing it up so that you can put it to good work