A trademark is a word (or several words), a name, a symbol (such as one or more letters, or numbers or a design), or any combination of words, numbers or symbols, used to identify the goods of a company. Merely using a trademark to identify and distinguish a company’s goods (or using a service mark to distinguish services) from other companies’ goods and services, creates trademark rights. Federal law (the Lanham Act) and “common law” provide advantages and protections for trademarks. To obtain the advantages of the Lanham Act, you must register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
A trademark must be distinctly different from the generic name of the product it represents. For example, Kleenex® is a trademark for the product, facial tissue; White Out® is a correction fluid and AAMCO®, transmission repair centers. A trademark must not be confused with a trade name. The trade name identifies the company: “The Coca-Cola Company”. COKE®, on the other hand, is a trademark of the Coca-Cola Company.
Some trademarks have been lost because companies cease using the mark in interstate commerce. Other marks have been lost when the mark itself became the generic of the product. Famous examples of trademarks that were lost because the product name became synonymous with the trademark are escalator, kerosene, shredded wheat and cellophane.
Trademarks are important assets and often possess significant value. Click here for some United States Trademark Association tips for the care and protection of your trademarks.
Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and other artistic works. If you obtain a copyright to protect a particular piece of work, you then have the right to reproduce it, prepare derivative works based on it, distribute it, perform it publicly, and display it publicly. In the growing field of internet copyright law, it pays to hire a copyright attorney who is familiar with the peculiarities of internet copy, images and sounds. Sometimes, a copyright is not the best way to protect your intellectual property. If you want to protect an invention or the goodwill associated with your product, a patent or a trademark will be a better option.
For assistance determining whether U.S. copyright law or trademark law is the appropriate means to protect your work, contact us. We will put our experience to work for you.