When you sell goods or services, you want your customers to recognize that they came from you and no one else. This is exactly what a trademark does.
As explained by the US Patent and Trademark Office, your trademark can consist of virtually anything, including the following:
- One or more words
- Your logo
- Your special design
- A combination of any of the above
Trademarks versus service marks
Many people confuse trademarks with service marks. While similar, these are actually two different things. You use a trademark for goods you sell, while you use a service mark for services you sell. Either way, these marks do the following:
- Identify you as the source of your goods or services
- Give you legal protection for your brand
- Help you guard against someone counterfeiting or fraudulently using your brand name or other identifying characteristics
Ownership versus registration
You own your trademark or service mark as soon as you begin using it. However, you do not have full legal protection unless and until you register it with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Prior to registration, you can use the letters “TM” for your trademark and the letters “SM” for your service mark. After registration, you can use the letter “R” in a circle. Most merchants put these in superscript immediately after their trademark or service mark, so that they look like one of the following:
- Registered trademark or service mark®
Keep in mind that your trademark or service mark, even when registered, does not necessarily give you ownership of the words you use. Rather, it gives you ownership of the way in which you use these words to identify your brand.