What is a trademark?
Trademark, or trade mark, is defined as a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one company from the goods or services of other companies (World Intellectual Property Office).
In practical terms, trademarks are closely connected to branding as it is often the visual element alongside the name of a brand that represents the trademark distinguishing the company’s product and service offerings from those of competitors.
While branding arises from the field of marketing, the term trademark is established under intellectual property law, providing legal protection against infringement of a trademark.
Forms and types of trademarks
Three most commonly used types of a trademark are:
Name (textual element)
Logo (graphical element)
Combined (text + logo)
Additional types of trademarks include shapes, sounds and other elements that can be used to distinguish the goods and services of a company. An example can be made of Coca-Cola’s shape of its bottle or of MGM’s lion’s roar.
What is the purpose of a trademark?
The main purpose of a trademark is to distinguish the company’s goods and services from those of its competitors. As mentioned before, the use of a trademark is closely related to branding efforts pursued by an organisation, resulting in differentiation, recognition and customer loyalty. At the same time, the trademark offers a considerable level of legal protection against infringement attempts.
What is a registered trademark?
A registered trademark is simply a trademark that has been registered within an intellectual property office, extending the level of legal protection against its infringement.
Trademark registration is a key step in protecting the company’s intellectual property rights. In addition to the ability to use the ® symbol and thus discourage infringement attempts, owners of registered trademarks have the right to oppose registration efforts of similar trademarks as well as issue cease & desist letters to copycats.
Three main symbols are used to denote various forms of trademarks:
U+00AE REGISTERED SIGN
U+2122 TRADEMARK SIGN
U+2120 SERVICE MARK SIGN
The symbol for a registered trademark, ®, communicates that the given trademark has been registered with the intellectual property office. This symbol can only be used after the registration process has been completed, extending the level of legal protection against infringement attempts.
The use of the ™ symbol is less constrained, allowing all entrepreneurs to use this symbol to communicate their intention to use a given trademark in commerce. As a result, the ™ symbol is typically used for trademarks that have not been registered yet and are typically undergoing the registration process at the given point in time.
This symbol is used less frequently but denotes trademarks for services (as opposed to physical products). Similarly to the use of the ™ symbol, the use of the ℠ symbol is more common in the US and there are no specific restrictions against its use. This means that entrepreneurs can use the ℠ symbol with their services to simply communicate their intention to use this trademark in commerce.
What is the difference between ® and ™ symbols?
While ® represents the symbol for a registered trademark, ™ symbol is associated with trademarks merely used in commerce without registration with the intellectual property office. There are no legal guidelines for the practical use of the ™ symbol, meaning that this symbol can be used more freely by entrepreneurs. Conversely, it is against the law to place ® symbol on company’s products and services if the registration of the given trademark has not been completed with the relevant intellectual property office.