Difference Between a Logo & Trademark

By Victoria McGrath

Trademarks include company names, logos, slogans and designs used to identify and distinguish a company's goods in its business trade. The physical mark can be a word, sign, symbol or design that identifies the trademark owner. A trademark must be a unique identifying mark, specifically associated with the goods or services that a company offers in commercial trade. One type of trademark includes the company logo. A logo can qualify as a trademark -- if it meets the minimum requirements. To qualify as a trademark, a logo must be a unique mark used to identify and distinguish the company's goods or services offered in the marketplace. Strong logos often become easily recognizable trademarks throughout society.

Basic Trademark Rights for Company Logos

Basic trademark rights apply to company logos associated with its products. The company automatically secures trademark rights in its logo once it is used in the marketplace to distinguish the company's products from its competitors. The company does not need to register the logo as a trademark at the state or federal level. State registration provides a public record and general notification of the company's use of the trademark within the region. Federal trademark registration provides broader benefits, including having the trademark listed in the federal database of registered trademarks.

Federal Trademark Registration Benefits

Federal registration provides a legal presumption of ownership of the logo; the exclusive right to use, copy, produce and profit from the logo; and the right to sue in federal court over unauthorized use of the logo. Basic trademark rights also provide exclusive use of the logo, but that can easily be disputed. If two companies use the same logo, a legal dispute over trademark ownership arises. If no one registers the trademark, the first company to use the logo as a trademark qualifies as the legal owner. If the logo is registered as a federal trademark, the courts recognize the registered owner as the legitimate owner. The other company must prove otherwise, with evidence that it used the logo before the federal registration date. The company might be able to show its earlier use of the trademark, based on an earlier date on a state registration application.

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Federal Trademark Registration Process

A company registers a logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, similar to the registration process for other trademarks, such as names and slogans. Each trademark name, logo and slogan must be registered as a standard character mark, stylized/design mark or sound mark. A company logo generally qualifies as a stylized/design mark, with specific font style, size and color. The type of mark and types of goods must be identified on the application. The registration application requires a description of the logo, a drawing of the logo, a product sample with the logo on it and applicable registration fees. The logo may be registered once the logo is in "use in commerce" or based on the owner's "intent to use" the logo as a trademark.

Logos Used as Trademarks

The most powerful company logos instantly capture their target audience. Consider the strength of logos as trademarks on restaurant row. A consumer can easily recognize the golden arches, the jack-in-the-box and Colonel Sanders. The golden arches obviously refer to McDonald's capitol "M" logo. The logo is actually yellow, but the company has trademarked the logo as the "Golden Arches." Jack-in-the-Box serves as both the trademarked name of the fast food restaurant chain and a description of its logo. The company trademarked its logo as a "clownhead design" in 2D, and in 3D with folded arms. Kentucky Fried Chicken uses its monogram, KFC, as its trademark name and logo. Another popular logo used to identify KFC's restaurant chain is the image of Colonel Sanders. Each of these logos serves as a company trademark.

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How to Identify a Trademark

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is essentially the same thing as a brand name. It may consist of a word, phrase, symbol or any combination thereof to establish an association between the mark and a particular product, service or celebrity. In effect, it helps the consumer distinguish one manufacturer from another. Because a trademark is unique by design or suggestion, it stands apart from generic words and symbols, making it easy to identify.

How To Trademark Something

A trademark is a mark, symbol or combination of words that distinctively identifies a product or service -- McDonald's Golden Arches, for example. Trademarks have economic value because they represent the business reputation of the products they represent or the company with which they are identified. Registration of your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allows you to obtain nationwide protection, sue in federal courts and qualify for international protection.

How to Obtain a Trademark

You obtain a trademark by using a logo, word, slogan or design that is associated with a product or service provided by your business. The key to establishing a trademark is using it actually and continually in commerce. The strength of your trademark rights depends on the uniqueness of your trademark, how long it has been in use and the size of the geographical area where the trademark is used. Although not legally required, registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides the maximum legal rights and protection for your trademark.

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