Trademark Law Overview

Trademark law can be baffling to the uninitiated, who tend to equate domain names and trademarks. Unlike domain names, there is no central trademark registry where you can apply for a trademark and get an immediate answer as to its availability for your use, based solely upon whether or not the trademark you seek is already "taken".

A domain name is a sequence of alphanumeric characters (for example, If the domain name you seek (an exact sequence of alphanumeric characters) is not already "taken", you get a registration for the name on the spot. A trademark or service mark is also a sequence of alphanumeric characters (leaving aside for the moment the question of design trademarks), but there can be multiple trademarks consisting of exactly the same characters. When you file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO"), you get no prompt commitment, one way or the other, and the USPTO will not permit you or prevent you from using the trademark or service mark. Instead, they will simply determine whether or not they will register it. You'll wait a year or more for a registration, if you get one at all, and any such registration does not give you exclusivity with respect to that particular combination of alphanumeric characters. In point of fact, you don't even get a guarantee of exclusivity for that particular combination of alphanumeric characters with respect to the specific goods or services covered by the registration unless you enforce your rights - the USPTO won't enforce those rights for you.

If a "mark" (the term refers to both trademarks and service marks and will be used often to simplify the language) is associated with goods it is a "trademark", and if it is associated with services, it is a "service mark." Marks must be associated with either goods or services, but in many cases the line between the two is a blurry one. Next: the origin of trademarks. Home       TM Overview       TM Case Index

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