So, we all know how important a trademark is. Every company must find a way to distinguish itself from every other company and it’s easy to do just that with a simple symbol, image, design, phrase, or word. But what if you were to take the next step and buy rights to such a trademark? What would you get in return? The short answer is: protection.
The long answer is a bit more complicated. Essentially, a trademark is intellectual property. Even though it’s not tangible, like a car or a pair of shoes, you can still own a trademark. A lot of people opt to buy the rights to their trademark, especially those advertising commercial products, because that usually means unauthorized use of it can be successfully fought against in court. For instance, if Company A uses Company B’s trademark to express some kind of message, Company A can be sued.
Now, trademark “abuse” can be policed even if there’s no official representation of the trademark over at the US Patent Office. In other words, sometimes a trademark evolves naturally and becomes distinct on its own. Even if it’s not registered federally, it doesn’t mean it’s not a trademark that should be recognized by the law. However, by registering a trademark, you make it a lot more likely that it will be protected. Basically, it’s easier to prove the legitimacy of registered trademark, as opposed to an unregistered trademark!
Additionally, if you registered your trademark, that means you get exclusive use of it. That makes your trademark, and thus your company, all the more distinct and valuable. There is a caveat here, however. You must register your trademark in a specific jurisdiction, so your rights are somewhat limited in that sense. Laws vary form state to state, so make sure to research this as you think about the protections you will receive.
If you don’t use your trademark, this will not bode well for you. Regular use of the trademark is a requirement if you want to protect it! Find out what precisely is required in your jurisdiction and make sure to follow through with the guidelines. Chances are using your trademark won’t be an issue – why would you want it to go to waste?
Now, because of the First Amendment, there is an inherently limited protection of the trademark. Not every unauthorized use of your trademark is against the law. In general, though, if you register your service mark, you’ll find that the law is more eager to be on your side.
Remember: you still have protections, even if you’ve never formally bought rights to your trademark. It’s often a good idea to inscribe “TM” next to your trademark, in this case, so as to let people know you think it is original and distinct. This will be helpful later on if you do end up in court, but hopefully it will prevent you from being there in the first place.
Hopefully now you’re more enlightened about the strange ins and outs of trademarks and you can use this special property properly.