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What is a trademark?

A “trademark” is a name, symbol, smell or sound used to identify goods that may be natural, manufactured, or produced and are sold, transported or distributed through interstate commerce.

The two types of marks that can be registered with the United States Trademark Office are:

  • Trademarks – used by their owners to identify goods; and
  • Service marks – used by their owners to identify services or intangible activities.

Some examples of well-known trademarks are: Google, Microsoft, McDonalds,Walmart, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, GE, and Apple.

When selecting a trademark for a new company or product, an owner is encouraged to select a “strong” mark. There are four types of marks that the law recognizes in order of strength:

  1. An arbitrary or fanciful mark;
  2. A suggestive mark;
  3. A descriptive mark; and
  4. A generic mark.

With some limited exceptions for when a descriptive mark achieves secondary meaning in the marketplace, only the first two categories are protectible under the law. As such, the party selecting the name should be conscious to pick a name that is likely to receive protection and one in which an infringer may be stopped from using the same or a similar mark.

Please Note: Rabin Kammerer Johnson provides these FAQ’s for informational purposes only, and you should not interpret this information as legal advice. If you want advice as to how the law might apply to the specific facts and circumstances of your case, please contact one of our attorneys.

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