What is a Trademark?

Trademarks are source identifiers for consumers and are different from copyrights and patents





Most people generally know what a trademarks are as they are exposed to them nearly everywhere they look. Technically, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or a design (or even a smell, color, or sound) that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services from one party from those of another. A less lawyer-ly sounding definition is that a trademark is anything that allows consumers to know what person or company is selling a good or service. The technical name for a source identifier for services is a “service mark,” however, the term trademark is often used to cover both trademarks for goods and service marks for services.


 For example, when a person goes to a store, and they see the BEST BUY name and logo on the store, he or she knows they are entering a store that will sell electronic goods as opposed to groceries, assuming that the consumer is familiar with the BEST BUY service mark. Once in the store, a consumer comparing computers can see the IBM trademark on some computers and the APPLE trademark on others and know what to expect about both of those brands based on their reputations, any research done prior to entering the store, and the consumers’ past experiences with the two computer brands.


More broadly than the above examples, trademarks can be brand names, product names, slogans, logos, sounds (think the NBC Chimes) or anything that is distinct and uniquely identifies the source of goods or services. Trademarks are valuable to companies because they can build brand loyalty and trust through their trademarks. For instance, some consumers are brand loyal to what soda they drink. Even though most cannot tell the difference between Coca-Cola or Pepsi, consumers will go to the store and get the brand they like making the name much more valuable than the individual product.


Often the public, including major media outlets, confuse the differences between patents, copyrights and trademarks. Although they are similar in that all three are considered “intellectual property,” they serve different purposes for businesses, inventors, entrepreneurs, and artists to monetize their intellectual property rights.




Copyrights protect creators of literary, musical, dramatic, and pictorial works, along with some other categories, from having their work stolen and sold by others who did not create it. For example, an author of a book has the copyright to their work and can prevent others from copying their book and selling it; or the artist of a painting can prevent someone from printing copies of the painting and selling it as their own. Unlike trademarks, copyrights last only for a certain period of time and can be registered at the U.S. . For an individual copyright owner, copyright protection last the life of the creator plus 70 years. For a corporate copyright owner, such as a movie studio, copyright protection lasts for 95 years from the date the work is published.



Patents are limited duration property rights granted to inventors in exchange for disclosing their invention with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In other words, inventors are given the exclusive right to monetize their invention for a period of time without competition being able to take and use the invention. The idea behind patent law, which is inherently anti-competitive, is to encourage innovation because if inventors were not given a period of time to exclusively own, use, and sell their invention, many inventors would cease trying to innovate because there would be less, if any, financial motivation to invent. Patents are generally protected for 20 years maximum from the date the patent application was filed with the USPTO.





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