A trademark can be your business name (Google, Apple, Airbnb), your product name (iPhone, Android), or a catchy slogan that will be associated with your business or product (Just Do It; Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands; The Ultimate Driving Machine). One can also trademark a logo (the Nike swoosh), a color (Tiffany jewelry blue box), distinctive packaging (the iconic Coca Cola bottle) or even a distinctive sound (the MGM Lion's roar; the Intel "bong"). As long as it serves as an indicia of source, you can trademark it.
Trademarks were created by law to protect consumers from being deceived. They are meant to be indicia of source, meaning, you know the source of what you buy because of the trademark on the package, and so you can have a reasonable expectation as to the quality of your purchase based on past experience with that brand. If any car company could slap a Ferrari logo on their car, or any soda maker could package their beverage in Coca-Cola packaging, we’d have a problem making our shopping decisions. Nowadays, people are more aware than ever of the power of a well developed brand identity. At the core of any brand identity is their unique trademark(s).
Trademark registration gives you a limited monopoly to use your mark in conjunction with your specific goods or services. Examples are: Nike (business name), Air Jordan (product name) and “Just Do It” (slogan). So, Nike may prevent other shoe makers from using the name “Nike” on their shoes but they can’t prevent people from using the word “Nike” when teaching art history classes on Ancient Greek Sculpture or from using the word to refer to their company when necessary, such as in a news story involving the company. It’s fair use for me to say I want to go buy a new pair of Nike shoes, or to say Nike stock is up, it’s obviously not OK for me to slap a Nike logo on my discount athletic shoe line.
The United State Patent and Trademark Office manages federal Trademark registration in the U.S. A federal trademark gives you rights throughout the U.S. but not internationally. When you register your business name with your state (and not all states, including California, register “trademarks” at the state level), you only have some protection in that state, but it does not afford you national trademark protection.
A Trademark gives you the right to prevent others from using your registered mark as an indicia of source on their goods or services. So, only Nike can use the word “Nike” to sell shoes and athletic apparel. However, there are times when companies can co-exist with the same trademark because no one would be confused about the source of the goods or services. Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets have coexisted for years and likely no one yet has gone to purchase a plane ticket thinking they were going to remodel their bathroom
A trademark is ultimately the identifier of the brand's character, quality and personality. Everyone knows it's crucial to invest in one's brand identity, and the starting place is by choosing a strong trademark and protecting it with a federal trademark registration.
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