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Frequently Asked Trademark Questions

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2023 | Trademark Law

A trademark is a phrase, word, or logo that identifies the source of goods or services. U.S. trademark law allows businesses to protect their commercial identities or brands. Federal laws, including the Lanham Act, govern trademark laws in the United States. The goal of obtaining a trademark is to help customers easily identify the products and services as belonging to a company. Customers are more likely to become loyal to a brand when they can easily identify their products.

If you are a business owner in need of a trademark, the attorneys atAU LLC can help. Our trademark attorneys understand how important completing thorough and effective trademark applications can be. With combined decades of trademark law experience, our Chicago area attorneys can help you avoid common pitfalls in the trademark process. While we are based in Chicago, we represent clients throughout the United States. Contact our intellectual property law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.

How Did Trademark Laws Come About?

Prior to 1870, common law governed trademark protection. In 1870, Congress attempted to pass the first federal trademark laws. Congress passed a trademark law using the Copyright Clause powers found in the constitution. Congress tried again in 1881 when it passed the Trademark Act under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Congress revised the Trademark Act in 1905.

The next major change in trademark law happened in 1946 when Congress passed the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act defines federal trademark registration rules and defines trademark protection. The Act also authorized the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) administrative authority over its trademark registration. Most trademark regulation is at the federal level although many states add additional trademark protection that sometimes complicates the federal trademarking regulations.

What is the Difference Between Trademark, Copyright, and Patents?

Trademarks protect the words or symbols that show the source of the goods or services. Businesses can apply for a trademark for their business names, slogans, and logos. For example, Coca Cola owns a trademark for its cursive logo. McDonald’s slogan “I’m lovin it” is protected by trademarks, and Nike owns a trademark for its swoosh symbol. Copyrights protect the artist’s works such as songs, books, and services. Finally, a patent protects an invention or an alteration to an invention.

What Types of Intellectual Property can I Trademark?

Businesses can trademark a word, phrase, symbol, device, or even a color. Any word, group of words or design that distinguishes a business’ goods or services from another company qualifies for a trademark. In order to be protected by federal trademark law, the trademarked item must be used in a commercial setting.

The three main types of trademarks are the following:

  • Service Marks and Trademarks are phrases, words, and symbols that define the goods or services of a company. A service mark indicates a service offered by the business. A trademark indicates a good sold by the business.
  • Collective Marks are similar to trademarks but they identify a group of trademarks. Members from a group can profit from a single trademark by using a collective mark.
  • Certification Marks cover certain characteristics of a product. For example, if a product is 100% organic, that phrase could be considered a certification mark.

Why do I Need a Trademark?

Trademarks allow business owners to do the following:

  • Distinguish your business from other businesses
  • Distinguish your services from other services
  • A trademark can indicate membership in a union
  • A trademark can indicate the source of your goods
  • A trademark can give permission to other companies via co-branding

Which Words and Phrases Cannot Receive a Trademark?

Business owners can now trademark both goods and services. Business owners cannot trademark the following, however:

  • Generic phrases or terms
  • Fanciful or arbitrary terms
  • Government insignia or symbols
  • Disparaging or bulgar phrases or words
  • The likeness of a former or current U.S. President
  • Deceptive, immoral, or scandalous symbols or words
  • Short motifs and sounds which are covered by copyright law
  • The use of likenesses or proper names of persons without consent

The hardest types of trademarks to register include the following:

  • Business names that include a geographic location such as Arizona Ice Tea
  • Business names that are generic
  • Names that are deceptive
  • Surnames that pertain to a product

How do I Apply for a Trademark?

Obtaining a trademark registration can take from nine months to a year. It is essential to start as early as possible. Applicants can apply online with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The first step in submitting a trademark application process is determining the type of protection you need. Consider whether the mark you would like to register is registrable and how difficult it will be to protect the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants the patent.

Next, applicants must identify the mark format. Marks fall into three categories — a standard character mark, a stylized/design mark, or a sound mark. Applicants need to explicitly state the types of services or goods to which the mark applies. This step is crucial because trademark holders can only prevent the use of their trademarks in their designated service areas. Applicants need to provide a basis for filing their application and search the trademark database to make sure that their trademark is distinctive.

Do I Need a Trademark Attorney?

If you are domiciled in a foreign country, you must hire an attorney to represent you at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, if you are domiciled in the United States or one of its territories, you are not required to hire an attorney to represent you. Nonetheless, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office strongly suggests hiring an attorney to guide you through the application.

Trademark Lawyers in Chicago, Illinois

AtAU LLC, our attorneys have extensive experience helping clients secure trademarks. While we are located in Chicago, Illinois, we offer the same exceptional trademark services to clients all over the United States. Our attorneys can help you determine whether a potential brand name will expose you to potential risk and whether or not the name is patentable. We also help clients enforce their trademarks when competitors attempt to use their trademarks without permission. Contact our Chicago trademark law firm today to learn how we can help you.