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What is a Trademark?

Shoot first, ask questions later is a philosophy followed by many entrepreneurs. To be fair, there is merit to getting an idea started before you have all the answers, but if you are interested in the long game, its best to give heed to the foundational aspects of your business within the first year or so.

Things like contracts, policies & procedures, employee handbooks, business plans, copyrights, patents, and trademarks fall into this realm of building your foundation and protecting your future.

There are ways to obtain consultations with top, local attorneys and business consultants for less that $2 a day. I personally think investing in this type of resource where an attorney or business consultant can be available any time you have a question is truly a no-brainer and a must for every entrepreneur or small business.

Watch a short video here.

In a previous post we discussed copyrights and patents. In this article, we are going to continue on the topic of protecting your ideas and creations by answering some of the FAQs about trademarks.

So, what is a trademark?

  • A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device or any combination used or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name for products.

What is a service mark?

  • A service mark is any word, name, symbol, or device or any combination used or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others and to indicate the source of the services. In short, a service mark is a brand name for services.

What is a certification mark?

  • A certification mark is any word, name, symbol, or device or any combination used or intended to be used in commerce with the owner’s permission by someone other than its owner to certify regional or other geographic origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of someone’s goods or services or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization. An example would be this mark that indicates the product is made from 100% wool:

What is a collective mark?

  • A collective mark is a trademark or service mark used or intended to be used in commerce by the members of a cooperative, an association, or other collective group or organization, including a mark which indicates membership in a union, an association, or other organization.

Do I need to register my trademark?

  • No. However, federal registration has several advantages including notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.

What are the benefits of federal trademark registration?

  • Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.

  • Evidence of ownership of the trademark.

  • Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.

  • Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.

  • Registration may be filed with U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to obtain a federal registration?

  • No. However, an applicant’s citizenship must be set forth in the record. If an applicant is not a citizen of any country, then a statement to that effect is sufficient. If an applicant has dual citizenship, then the applicant must choose which citizenship will be printed in the Official Gazette and on the certificate of registration.

Where can I find trademark information and forms?

  • You may access the trademark forms, plus information about applying for a trademark at The forms may be downloaded, filled out and mailed in, or, by clicking PrinTEAS on the site, you can fill out, validate and print trademark and service mark applications via the PTO website. You may contact the Trademark Assistance Center at 800-786-9199 for a hard copy of the Basic Facts brochure. If you live in Northern Virginia, the number is 703-308-9000.

Are there federal regulations governing use of the "TM" or "SM" designations?

  • No. However, use of the symbols TM (™) or SM (SM) (for trademark and service mark, respectively) may be governed by local, state, or foreign laws and the laws of the pertinent jurisdiction must be consulted. These designations usually indicate that a party claims rights in the mark and are often used before a federal registration is issued.

When can I use the registration symbol (the letter R enclosed within a circle ®) with the mark?

  • The federal registration symbol may be used once the mark is actually registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Even though an application is pending, the registration symbol may not be used before the mark has actually become registered. The federal registration symbol should only be used on goods or services that are the subject of the federal trademark registration. Note: Several foreign countries use the letter R enclosed within a circle to indicate that a mark is registered in that country. Use of the symbol by the holder of a foreign registration may be proper.

How do I find out whether a mark is already registered?

  • In order to determine whether any person or company is using a particular trademark, a trademark search can be conducted. Searches can be performed at 2900 Crystal Drive, 2nd Floor, Arlington, Virginia. Also, word marks may be searched at over 70 Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries located throughout the country. For a listing of these locations, go to

Is a federal registration valid outside the United States?

  • No. Certain countries, however, do recognize a United States registration as a basis for registering the mark in those countries. Many countries maintain a register of trademarks. The laws of each country regarding registration must be consulted.

Should I search the PTO records before filing an application?


This article came primarily from the Central Virginia Small Business Administration archives.

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Lynchburg, VA 24501, USA




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