The most common misconception we get when we tell people we are trademark lawyers is that Trademarks/Patents/Copyrights are all the same. And this is totally understandable! All three of these distinct areas of law fall under the general umbrella of “intellectual property” law. So how do we describe the difference between trademarks, patents, and copyrights to those who don’t know?
Before we give a definition, let’s talk about the purpose of trademarks in the first place….at least from the government’s perspective.
Trademarks are meant to minimize confusion on behalf of the consumer, so they aren’t tricked into buying a product from one brand thinking it was actually from another brand. Really, its about making it so each brand is so distinct from one another that confusion is removed from the purchasing equation.
The full-fledged legal definition of trademark is: any word, phrase, symbol, logo, design or other graphic used to identify what source a product comes from.
Okay let’s translate that into a way that makes sense by showing what a trademark is, rather than saying what it is.
How can you tell whether you are buying a can of Pepsi versus a can of Coca Cola?
You’re going to look at the big red white and blue globe logo. And the word Pepsi itself. By seeing these two things, you can have confidence and not be confused if you’re buying Pepsi or another brand of soda. With the other can, you can see the words “Coca Cola” with its stylized cursive wording and red background and know you’re buying a coke.
Really, the name of the company, the logo, or a phrase associated with the company are trademarks. How about another example?
How do you know if you’re buying a long sleeve shirt from Nike or Under Armor? Without thinking about where you’re buying it, you’ll often look at the logos to know the product is made by who it is. So in this case, you’d either look at the word Nike (trademarked) the swoosh logo (trademarked) or the phrase “Just do it” (trademarked). In regard to clothing, the brand of clothing is what is trademarked, not just the words/phrases on the front of the shirt.
Again, to reemphasize, trademarks are used to eliminate confusion in the marketplace for consumers. Beyond this, however, is the concept of building a powerful brand that carries with it significant confidence in consumers eyes.
By seeing the Nike logo on a piece of athletic equipment or a Samsung logo on a piece of electronics, consumers almost inherently will trust those products as being reliable.
You probably already know hundreds of different trademarks. Some of the world’s most valuable trademarks include, Google, Walmart, Microsoft, and Nike. Seriously, trademarks can be valuable. It was recently estimated that the trademarked company name of “Google” was worth 27% of the company’s overall value. That’s over $40 Billion!
Okay, That’s Cool But How Does That Effect Me as a Business Owner?
You’ve worked tirelessly to build a product, company, or service. Someone else, sees the trust you’ve created in your brand and wants to leach off that. If you have registered your trademark, you have added legal protection to help you from this type of behavior.
Here’s another scenario. Lets say you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort building up a product. Only to find out years later that someone else has been selling a similar product under the same or similar name. All that time building a brand, and now you’ve got a major problem
Simply put, as a business owner or product creator, you need to take every precaution necessary to make sure these types of things don’t happen. Going through the process of conducting a clearance search and registering your trademark can do a great deal for protecting your company and brand, and especially protecting yourself from possible headaches in the future.
Applying for a trademark registration is difficult and is literally a legal proceeding before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you’d like to talk to an attorney about a potential trademark you have, or questions you have related to such, feel free to contact us here at MZJ.