Does a Trademark Prevent Naming Something?

By Shelly Morgan

You’re surrounded by trademarks every day. For example, the names Pepsi, Coke, RC Cola, Merry Maids all define specific goods or services. These trademarks help eliminate potential confusion among consumers when they are confronted with similar goods. If your trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you may be able to exclude others throughout the country from using your trademark to identify similar good or services.

You’re surrounded by trademarks every day. For example, the names Pepsi, Coke, RC Cola, Merry Maids all define specific goods or services. These trademarks help eliminate potential confusion among consumers when they are confronted with similar goods. If your trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you may be able to exclude others throughout the country from using your trademark to identify similar good or services.

Infringement

Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses a mark similar to one already registered with the USPTO to identify a similar product. Under these circumstances, a mark is said to have infringed upon another registered trademark. The owners of registered trademarks can bring legal action to prevent and stop another party from using a trademark already in use. Such lawsuits can be expensive; if a party has willfully infringed upon the trademark of another, he may be liable for up to three times the amount in lost profits or damages, whichever is greater, and legal costs.

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Trademark Search

You can minimize the risk of infringement by searching the trademark database of the USPTO to see if a similar mark has already been registered and what types of products it is used to identify. If nothing similar exists, you may consider registering your mark.

Litigation

Lengthy litigation between Apple Inc. and Apple Corps shows how owning a registered trademark does not prevent others from using a similar mark for different goods. Apple Corps and Apple Inc. spent several years enmeshed in litigation aimed at preventing each other from using the Apple trademark. The court found that Apple Corps could not prevent Apple Inc. from using the Apple trademark to identify computers and related peripheral equipment. However, Apple Inc. could not use its trademark for the sale of music because it was similar to products offered by Apple Corps.

Criteria

The USPTO has specific criteria for determining when two marks are so similar they might cause the consumer to be confused. The sound of the mark when spoken, similarity in appearance and commercial impression, and the relatedness of goods or services are all taken into consideration. If these elements are sufficiently alike, consider using a mark different from one already registered.

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Trademark Rights for a Similar Logo

References

Related articles

When Is a Trademark Copied?

Several factors are considered in determining whether a trademark has been copied, such as use, intention and effect. A trademark protects businesses and consumers by identifying the source of a particular brand or product. Think of the Apple logo – when you see an apple with a bite out of it and a single leaf, you automatically associate the design with Apple’s brand. Trademark infringement occurs when a similar name or design causes confusion among consumers.

Trademark Owner's Responsibilities

Holding an official trademark registered with the federal government gives you the right to exclusively use your mark, but it does not come without responsibility. If you have a trademark registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are ongoing requirements to meet in order to maintain and enforce its exclusive use.

What Is a Trademark's Duration?

A trademark identifies a particular manufacturer of goods, using a particular phrase, design or symbol. Designs, words or symbols used to identify a provider of services are called service marks, although there is no practical legal difference between trademarks and service marks. The mark ensures consumers can easily identify a particular company as the source of a product, and encourages brand loyalty. It also distinguishes and sets apart a particular company’s goods and services from others. This encourages companies to maintain consistent quality standards in the goods and services they produce. In some cases, trademark protection extends beyond words or symbols, encompassing "trade dress." For example, if a fitness drink company packaged its drinks in unique, triangle-shaped bottles, that shape would be entitled to trademark protection.

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