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Are You Familiar with Trademark Law?

You've been using your company name for a while now and, as things get more crowded, you're beginning to wonder if anyone else uses it, what the law is, and what you should do, if anything to protect it.

Did you know that FIRST USE of a trademark will grant you common law ownership of that trademark in the particular market in which you currently offer your goods or services, but FEDERAL REGISTRATION grants you the exclusive right to a trademark in the relevant market nationwide. Start with a free trademark search to see if it's already taken.

If not, you can proceed here: USPTO to register your name on the US Patent and Trademark Office's electronic system.

Perhaps you're wondering what the BENEFITS of FEDERAL REGISTRATION are? Here are some:

Provides nationwide notice of exclusive ownership which prevents others from acquiring common low rights through innocent adoption and use
Creates legal presumption in court of your right to exclusive use
Opportunity to make it unchallengeable by keeping it in use for five years from date of registration

What are the QUALIFICATIONS for FEDERAL REGISTRATION? It has to be distinctive enough to identify the business as the only source of goods and services, and ordinary names\ (descriptive, laudatory, geographical, personal and generic) don't usually qualify.

STRONG TRADEMARKS include

Fanciful. Made-up words like "Kodak".
Arbitrary. Real words used in a different way, such as Apple computers.
Suggestive. Real words that suggest, but don't actually describe qualities, like Greyhound bus.

WEAK TRADEMARKS include

Descriptive Trademarks, like "Donuts," or "Low-Cost Builders".
Personal Names, like Smith's Automotive.
Unless they develop 'secondary meaning,' like Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Generic Words, like "aspirin".

Where else can you get information? The International Trademark Association (INTA), www.inta.org. Check out their Checklist for Trademarks + Trademark Proper Use Kit. Join their TM Topics Email List to post questions, get answers, and exchange ideas with members and non-members, "from top level corporations, associations and legal firms".

Your name and trademark are an important part of branding. Protect yourself. Of course for legal advice, contact a trademark or intellectual property lawyer.


Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, offers coaching and Internet courses on emotional intelligence to improve your life in all areas. [parked domain susandunn.cc].

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