Where can I get trademark information?

In addition to the information about trademarks that you will find here, you can find information about federal trademarks at the USPTO Web site. The USPTO Web site provides a wide variety of information about trademarks, electronic filing of trademark applications and other trademark documents.

The USPTO Trademark Electronic Business Center contains all the information needed for the entire registration process. If you need answers to specific questions about federal trademarks, you can contact the Trademark Assistance Center at 800.786.9199 or 703.308.9000.

For state trademarks, information is generally available at the Web site or office of the state official charged with registering state trademarks, usually the secretary of state.

What are "common law" rights?

Common law rights arise from actual use of a mark. Generally, the first to either: 1) use a mark in commerce or 2) file an "intent to use" application has the ultimate right to use and registration of the mark. However, without registration, you may have difficulty proving your prior right to use the mark.

Do I have to register a trademark to have the rights to it?

There is no requirement to register a trademark, but it gives you nationwide coverage for the rights, and it makes your ownership more clearly stated.

Where do I register a trademark?

You can register a trademark with a state or with the federal government. Federal registration is handled by filing a registration application with the USPTO. State registrations are usually handled by a state's secretary of state, although the office where state trademarks are registered varies by state.

How long do I have a right to a trademark?

As long as it is being used, the rights to the mark can last. Once a mark is registered, it needs to be renewed every 10 years, although a confirmation of use must also be filed between the fifth and sixth year.

How can I research to see if anyone else is using our mark?

There is a database called CASSIS (Classification and Search Support Information System) which you can access at U.S. Patent and Trademark libraries and several other places.

What are the advantages of filing a state trademark registration?

There are several reasons to file for state registration of your trademark. First, it gives constructive notice in your state of your claim as the trademark owner. It shows evidence of ownership of the trademark, and state registration can serve later as a basis for a federal registration.

What are the disadvantages of filing a state trademark registration?

The main disadvantage of a state registration is that the registration only protects the trademark owner's claim in a single state. To receive the type of protection a federal registration would give, the trademark owner would have to file in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories. There is also the possibility that someone else has filed the same or similar mark in another state.

Sidebar: A state registration has very limited geographical protection.

What are the advantages of federal trademark registration?

  • Provides constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.
  • Provides evidence of ownership of the trademark.
  • Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.
  • Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
  • Registration may be filed with U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

What are the disadvantages of filing a federal trademark registration?

There are no real disadvantages to a federal trademark registration. The only possible disadvantage to a business owner is that the federal trademark registration process is a more complicated process. Registration applications go through a more rigorous examination.

If I have a choice, should I choose to register my trademark with the state or federal government?

If you cannot do both, it is always wiser to choose a federal trademark registration. As shown above, federal registration has many more advantages over state registration.

What do the trademark designations "TM" or "SM" mean?

Basically, they mean that someone is claiming trademark rights. These designations usually indicate that a party claims rights in the mark and are often used before a federal registration is issued.

Sidebar: Uses of the symbols "TM" or "SM" (for trademark and service mark, respectively) are governed by local, state or foreign laws. Check the laws of your particular jurisdiction.

What about the use of ""?

This is the federal registration symbol and may only be used after a mark has been registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It may not be used if an application is pending. The registration symbol may not be used before the mark has actually become registered.

However, there is one exception. Several foreign countries use the letter "R" enclosed within a circle to indicate that a mark is registered in that country. Use of the symbol by the holder of a foreign registration is permitted.

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