What Is A Trademark

Most people have heard of a trademark and understand that having one is important, but they really don’t know what a trademark is, or what one does. It is very important that all entrepreneurs and business owners understand their rights under U.S. trademark law.

A trademark can be a symbol, a word, a figure, a phrase or a mark that is used to claim exclusive properties of products or services. In short, a trademark distinguishes one company’s product from those sold or manufactured by others and gives the owner a protected proprietary right.

Many toy makers are licensees of trademark, which allows them to use another’s trademark. For example, Lego is allowed to make Star Wars-themed toys because it has purchased a license from Lucasfilm. If Lego infringed on the Star Wars trademark without such a license, Lucasfilm could sue them.

A trademark can be a recognizable sign or design or expression that identifies products or services, and the trademark may be located on a product, a package, a label, etc. Commonly recognized trademarks are Nike’s swoosh and Coca Cola’s name written in red ribbon lettering.

Here are some important symbols related to trademarks that you should understand:

TMThe superscript "TM" is the trademark symbol that is used for unregistered trademarks, which is used to promote or brand goods.
SMThe superscript "SM" is the symbol used for an unregistered service mark, which are marks used to promote or brand services.
®The well-known R surrounded by a circle is used for registered trademarks. This symbol should not be confused with the C surrounded by a circle which indicates a copyright.

To learn more, watch this video from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, "Basic Facts about Trademarks: What Every Small Business Should Know Now, Not Later."