A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device that identifies a brand. When a company uses a mark to identify its goods in commerce, it acquires a right to use the mark on an ongoing basis. A company need not register a mark to acquire trademark rights, but registration does alert others to the existence of the trademark and can yield other important benefits.
A corporation does not need to apply or register its mark to receive a trademark. Instead, a business acquires trademark rights simply by using its mark in commerce. The law does not protect all trademarks equally. Therefore, companies that desire strong protection should use original and distinctive marks so that others can't plausibly claim they independently created a similar mark. A corporation gains trademark rights wherever the mark is used in commerce, so it is in a corporation's interest to use its marks widely.
Every state allows corporations to register trademarks. The registration process differs from state to state, but states typically require registrants to provide their contact information and an example of the mark in use. State laws can afford trademark holders additional rights beyond those provided by federal law. For example, when a corporation places another corporation's mark on its own products, state law allows the victim to file a lawsuit for "passing off."
By registering its mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a corporation can place the entire country on notice that it's using a particular trademark. Registration can take more than a year and is expensive from the standpoint of a small business, costing at least $275 before legal fees. The trademark application requires the corporation to provide its name and address as well as a sample of the mark. It must also describe the goods or services associated with the mark and the statutory basis for filing the application.
A corporation's trademark rights never automatically expire as long as it continues to use the mark in commerce. If another party uses the mark, the corporation owning the trademark may send the infringer a cease-and-desist letter and file a lawsuit to enforce its rights if the infringement continues. Otherwise, a court might later decide the corporation abandoned the mark. A corporation must accept the costs of protecting its trademark as a necessary part of retaining its trademark rights.