What Are the Four Parts to Obtaining a Trademark?

By Marilyn Lindblad

Your trademark tells your customers that your products come from you. It distinguishes your goods and services from those of others. You can select a word, phrase, symbol, design or any combination of these elements to serve as your trademark. The strongest trademark is a fanciful, made-up word or image that is not confusingly similar to another party's goods. There are four basic steps to obtaining a trademark.

Classification of Goods

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office classifies trademarks according to the type of goods the mark covers. Therefore, the first step toward obtaining a trademark is to select the goods you will offer to the public; this will help determine the trademarks you can and cannot use. Generally speaking, you cannot use a trademark salad dressing that another trademark owner is already using for a spaghetti sauce. The two items are in the same class of goods, and selling them under the same trademark could confuse consumers as to which trademark owner makes the product.

Selection of the Mark

Another step toward obtaining a trademark is selecting the mark. Your trademark can be a word or phrase, a graphic or a combination of text and graphics. Trademarks vary in strength based on their distinctiveness. A weak trademark is descriptive, such as "Papa Vito's Pizza" for a pizza restaurant. A strong trademark is fanciful or suggestive, such as "Zing! Pizza." During the naming process, many business owners conduct a trademark search to make certain someone else is not already using the planned mark. Online search services are available to help you with this task, or you can conduct your own search on the PTO website, on search engines and in the marketplace.

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Use in Commerce

Before the PTO will register a trademark, the trademark owner must use the trademark in commerce -- that is, in a commercial transaction. When you apply to register your trademark, you must state the date when you first used your trademark in commerce. You can prove use with an order form, an invoice for the sale of a trademarked item, or a copy of a receipt for the purchase of a trademarked item. Creating an Internet domain name that uses the trademark can fulfill the requirement of first use if the domain name's website offers trademarked goods for sale. One token sale does not fulfill the requirement of use in commerce. The trademarked goods must be continuously used in commerce to preserve the owner's trademark rights.


After the trademark user selects his goods or services, chooses his trademark and uses the mark in commerce, he may file an application to obtain a federal trademark registration. The registrant may file electronically on the PTO website, or he may use an online legal document preparation service to streamline the process. A federal registration enters the trademark in a national database and informs others who may want to register the same word or design that the trademark is already registered. After registration, the owner may use a registration mark, an "R" inside a circle, with his trademark.

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How to Use TESS for Trademark


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Difference Between a Logo & Trademark

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.

How to Trademark a Product Before It Exists

The only way to establish trademark rights is to actually use the trademark in commerce. If your product is not ready for the marketplace, you do not have any trademark rights related to the product. However, if you are within 18 months of marketing your product, you can file an "intent-to-use application" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to establish yourself as the first to use the trademark.

How to Apply for a Trademark

A trademark is a distinct design, symbol and/or phrase that distinguishes and identifies the services and goods of a company from other entities. Registering a trademark with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) gives a business exclusive use of the mark. It also gives businesses the right to use the federal registration symbol for trademarks. The USPTO offers online registration of trademarks.

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