Trademarks

Trademark: Exclusive rights in a symbol, word, slogan, sound or image-identifying commercial source for particular goods or services.

Federal Trademark Registration basics
Excerpted from: “US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)
Basic Facts About Registering a Trademark

What is a Trademark?

          A TRADEMARK is either a word, phrase, symbol or design, or combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. Normally, a mark for goods appears on the product or on its packaging, while a service mark appears in advertising for the services. A trademark is different from a copyright or a patent. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

Establishing Trademark Rights

          Trademark rights arise from either (1) actual use of the mark, or (2) the filing of a proper application to register a mark in the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) stating that the applicant has a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce regulated by the U.S. Congress. This latter is the “Intent to Use” mark. Federal registration is not required to establish rights in a mark, nor is it required to begin use of a mark. However, federal registration can secure benefits beyond the rights acquired by merely using a mark. For example, the owner of a federal registration is presumed to be the owner of the mark for the goods and services specified in the registration, and to be entitled to use the mark nationwide.

          There are two related but distinct types of rights in a mark: the right to register and the right to use. Generally, the first party who either uses a mark in commerce or files an application in the PTO has the ultimate right to register that mark. The PTO's authority is limited to determining the right to register. The right to use a mark can be more complicated to determine. This is particularly true when two parties have begun use of the same or similar marks without knowledge of one another and neither has a federal registration. Only a court can render a decision about the right to use, such as issuing an injunction or awarding damages for infringement. It should be noted that a federal registration can provide significant advantages to a party involved in a court proceeding. The PTO cannot provide advice concerning rights in a mark. Only a private attorney can provide such advice.

          Unlike copyrights or patents, trademark rights can last indefinitely if the owner continues to use the mark to identify its goods or services. The term of a federal trademark registration is 10 years, with 10-year renewal terms. However, between the fifth and sixth year after the date of initial registration, the registrant must file an affidavit setting forth certain information to keep the registration alive. If no affidavit is filed, the registration is canceled.

Types of Applications for Federal Registration

          An applicant may apply for federal registration in three principal ways.

          (1) An applicant who has already commenced using a mark in commerce may file based on that use (an "actual use," AU, application).

          (2) An applicant who has not yet used the mark may apply based on a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce (an "intent-to-use," ITU application). For the purpose of obtaining federal registration, commerce means all commerce which may lawfully be regulated by the U.S. Congress, for example, interstate commerce or commerce between the U.S. and another country. The use in commerce must be a bona fide use in the ordinary course of trade, and not be made merely to reserve a right in a mark. Use of a mark in promotion or advertising before the product or service is actually provided under the mark on a normal commercial scale does not qualify as use in commerce. Use of a mark in purely local commerce within a state does not qualify as "use in commerce." If an applicant files based on a bona fide intention to use in commerce, the applicant will have to use the mark in commerce and submit an allegation of use to the PTO before the PTO will register the mark.

          (3) Additionally, under certain international agreements, an applicant from outside the United States may file in the United States based on an application or registration in another country.

          A United States registration provides protection only in the United States and its territories. If the owner of a mark wishes to protect a mark in other countries, the owner must seek protection in each country separately under the relevant laws.

Who May File an Application?

          The application must be filed in the name of the owner of the mark; usually an individual, corporation or partnership. The owner of a mark controls the nature and quality of the goods or services identified by the mark.

Other Types of Applications

          In addition to trademarks and service marks, the Trademark Act provides for federal registration of other types of marks, such as certification marks, collective trademarks and service marks, and collective membership marks.

Use of the "TM," "SM" and “®” Symbols

          Anyone who claims rights in a mark may use the TM (trademark) or SM (service mark) designation with the mark to alert the public to the claim. It is not necessary to have a registration, or even a pending application, to use these designations. The claim may or may not be valid. The registration symbol, ®, may only be used when the mark is registered in the PTO. It is improper to use this symbol at any point before the registration issues.

Examination

          About four months after filing, an examining attorney at the PTO reviews the application and determines whether the mark may be registered. If the examining attorney determines that the mark cannot be registered, the examining attorney will issue a letter listing any grounds for refusal and any corrections required in the application. The examining attorney may also contact the applicant by telephone if only minor corrections are required. The applicant must respond to any objections within six months of the mailing date of the letter, or the application will be abandoned. If the applicant's response does not overcome all objections, the examining attorney will issue a final refusal. The applicant may then appeal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an administrative tribunal within the PTO.

          A common ground for refusal is likelihood of confusion between the applicant's mark and a registered mark. In evaluating an application, the examining attorney at the USPTO conducts a search and notifies the applicant if a conflicting mark is found. To determine whether there is a conflict between two marks, the PTO determines whether there would be likelihood of confusion, that is, whether relevant consumers would be likely to associate the goods or services of one party with those of the other party as a result of the use of the marks at issue by both parties. The principal factors to be considered in reaching this decision are the similarity of the marks and the commercial relationship between the goods and services identified by the marks. To find a conflict, the marks need not be identical, and the goods and services do not have to be the same.

          Marks which are merely descriptive in relation to the applicant's goods or services, or a feature of the goods or services, may also be refused. Marks consisting of geographic terms or surnames may also be refused. Marks may be refused for other reasons as well.

Publication for Opposition

          If there are no objections, or if the applicant overcomes all objections, the examining attorney will approve the mark for publication in the Official Gazette, a weekly publication of the PTO. The PTO will send a NOTICE OF PUBLICATION to the applicant indicating the date of publication. In the case of two or more applications for similar marks, the PTO will publish the application with the earliest effective filing date first. Any party who believes it may be damaged by the registration of the mark has 30 days from the date of publication to file an opposition to registration. An opposition is similar to a formal proceeding in the federal courts, but is held before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. If no opposition is filed, the application enters the next stage of the registration process.

Issuance of Certificate of Registration or Notice of Allowance

          If the application was based upon the actual use of the mark in commerce prior to approval for publication, the PTO will register the mark and issue a registration certificate about 12 weeks after the date the mark was published, if no opposition was filed.

          If, instead, the mark was published based upon the applicant's statement of having a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce, the PTO will issue a NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE about 12 weeks after the date the mark was published, again provided no opposition was filed. The applicant then has six months from the date of the NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE to either (1) use the mark in commerce and submit a STATEMENT OF USE, or (2) request a six-month EXTENSION OF TIME TO FILE A STATEMENT OF USE. The applicant may request additional extensions of time only as noted in the instructions on the back of the extension form. If the STATEMENT OF USE is filed and approved, the PTO will then issue the registration certificate. Note the Government requires a fee upon the filing of the proof of actual use.

Identification of the Goods and/or Services

          The applicant must state the specific goods and services for which registration is sought and with which the applicant has actually used the mark in commerce, or in the case of an "intent-to-use" application, has a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce.

          The registration procedure for trademarks and general information concerning trademarks is described in a separate pamphlet entitled “Basic Facts About Trademarks”.

A summary of the road to registration is attached.


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