What is a Trademark?

This article also answers the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a trademark and a design right?
  • How are unregistered trademarks labelled?
  • How are registered trademarks labelled?

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks are signs, or a collection of signs, which are used to distinguish the goods or services of a particular company or person from another.  This explains the difference in trademarks from design rights, which only protects product appearance, regardless of its exclusivity to an enterprise.  The signs incorporated into a trademark may be brand names, logos or, less conventionally, shapes, sounds and smells.  Check out the UK IPO’s My IP Intellectual Property Explained Handbook which has lots more information on trademarks, as well as the other rights.

How are Unregistered Trademarks Labelled?

A trademark can be left unregistered and bear the letters “TM” (or “SM” for service mark, used in the US to differentiate between exclusive services of one provider, compared to goods).  Using an unregistered trademark offers certain rights under common law.

How are Registered Trademarks Labelled?

Registering a trademark, and thus having exclusive use and the legal right to take action against anyone using your mark, is carried out by applying through a national or regional trademark office.  Registered trademarks bear the letter “R” in a circle ® and are placed uppercase beside the trademark.  Once registered, trademarks must be renewed every 10 years from their filing date.  Not all trade marks are registrable. For a trade mark to be registrable, it must be new and  distinctive.