People across America file around 3,000 trademark infringement lawsuits annually. Because this is so common, it’s important that individuals and businesses know what to do to protect their intellectual property. Here, we’re going to talk about the basics of trademark law and how to enforce it. Read on to protect yourself, your ideas, and your business.
1. Trademarks Are Different From Copyrights
Trademark law protects registered brand names and logos that your business uses for goods and services. This ensures that other businesses do not steal your brand imagery and use it as their own. It also keeps your business unique in a competitive market by ensuring that your name, logo, and related content, like slogans are individualistic.
In this way, trademark registration protects your distinct trademark or service mark.
Copyrights and patents also protect intellectual property, but it is different.
Copyright protects original artwork and literature. Other people cannot legally sell someone else’s personal art or writing as their own if it’s copyrighted. If they do, the party with copyrighted work can sue.
Patents protect original inventions. If you plan to market and sell tools or technology that you created, this is what you’ll need.
Note that most people need more than one of these protections. Those who write books or sell innovations also usually have brand names and imagery. A trademark will almost always be necessary.
2. Trademarks Aren’t Domains or Names
Trademarks also are different from domains and business names. It’s easy to get confused here, so knowing the difference between these points is critical.
Domains are part of your web address. You need to register them with a domain registrar. You can’t trademark them because they technically aren’t part of your good or service.
Business names can qualify for trademarks but do not always do so. You would need to use this name as a source for your good or service. You also may be likely to register your business name when written in certain fonts, colors, or styles as this can qualify as brand imagery.
3. There Are Many Types of Trademarks
Trademarks also aren’t one-size-fits-all. We discussed trademarks for brand names and logos, but those are far from the only important trademark type.
You can also file for trademarks on:
- Words/slogans that describe or denote your business
- Phrases that you plan to use in advertisements or web content
- Symbols (including logos) that your business uses to identify itself
- Designs including your brand name/font, product photos, initials, imagery, graphics, or even specific brand-color hex codes (when paired with certain fonts or images)
- A combination of more than one of the above
If you want to trademark something but are unsure of whether you can or not, a trademark lawyer can answer your questions. Professional assistance can ensure that all your brand phrases and images are protected.
4. Trademark Law Provides Prerequisites for Trademarks
In order for something to qualify for a trademark, it must be distinctive. This means that it identifies the source of a specific object or service.
But what makes a mark distinctive?
Courts say that a marking is distinctive if it relates to the underlying product. It can be:
- Arbitrary or fanciful (a brand name/image that bears no inherent relationship to the product you’re selling, but denotes your brand anyway)
- Suggestive (a mark that suggests a characteristic of what you’re selling)
- Descriptive (something that describes what you’re selling rather than simply suggesting it)
- Generic (describes the general category that your product belongs to such as food, computers, or software)
Your intellectual property will fall into one of these categories.
Trademark law prevents generic markings from qualifying for registration. The other categories usually will.
Regardless of category, some markings are more distinctive than others. You will be able to get a higher degree of legal protection for more distinctive content.
5. There Are Multiple Ways to Get a Trademark
Once the court rules your markings as distinctive, you can file for trademark protection.
There are two ways that you can get a trademark on your intellectual property. The first is to register it with the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
The second is being the first person/business to use the mark in commerce. This means that you are the initial seller of products with the mark attached.
For example, if you begin to sell a specific type of chocolate bar with distinctive markings on it to the public, that chocolate is already legally related to that imagery. However, this is assuming that no one else has done so before. If another person was the first to market the product/imagery to the public, you are infringing on their intellectual property.
You do not need to go through the federal government to get these types of trademarks. Once the brand information and product are correlated in the eyes of those around you, you’re good to go.
However, note that they only apply locally. If your chocolate is sold as “Connie’s Confections,” others within your area cannot call their candy shops “Connie’s Confections.” However, someone in another state could still do so.
6. Trademark Law Provides Protection SoYou Can Sue for Trademark Violation
If someone uses your trademarked imagery, there are legal options available to help you reclaim your due. Trademark infringement takes place when you can prove that:
- The imagery has a valid mark with legal protection
- You/your business owns the marking
- The defendant’s use of the mark will likely create confusion among buyers
The final point can be difficult to prove in a court of law or before a judge. An experienced attorney can help ensure that you get your due compensation through the litigation and settlement process.
Beyond the Basics of Trademark Law
Trademark law can be complex, but knowing some basics of these issues can ensure that your intellectual property remains protected. Now that you know some important facts about trademark laws and how to enforce them, it’s time to get started.
Boyer Law Firm is committed to helping individuals and businesses secure trademarks within the state of Florida. We also will assist you in opening a legal case if another party infringes on your trademark. Contact us with any remaining questions you have and request a consultation today.