How to Report the Use of an Unregistered Trademark

By Louis Kroeck

Unregistered trademarks are granted a limited set of common law rights. They don't enjoy the same level of protection afforded to trademarks registered under state or federal law, but you can still take steps to protect your unregistered trademark. Because of the nature of trademark enforcement, no authoritative body oversees issues related to unregistered trademark infringement or dilution.

Identifying Your Mark

The holder of an unregistered trademark is not required to identify the mark with any type of notation. However, you should identify your unregistered trademark to notify third parties that you are asserting rights to the mark and you are serious about enforcement. It is unlawful to identify an unregistered trademark with the ® symbol, which is reserved for formally registered trademarks. Instead, you should use the ™ symbol to denote an unregistered trademark.

Your Rights

Unregistered trademarks are granted protection under common law doctrine. Rights in an unregistered trademark are asserted through continuous use of the mark in commerce. An unregistered mark can only be protected in the geographic area in which it has been used. Therefore, if someone is using your mark outside of your business locale, you will have no recourse for protecting your mark.

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Enforcing Trademark Rights

Trademark rights, including rights in unregistered marks, are not enforced by contacting any single authority to report unauthorized use of the mark. Trademark holders must independently protect their marks by monitoring for unauthorized use. If such use is detected, you notify the infringing parties by sending a "cease and desist" letter requesting that they stop using your unregistered trademark.

Enforcing Unregistered Marks

If the infringing party does not comply with your cease and desist letter, you may protect your unregistered mark by filing a lawsuit for trademark infringement in your state court. Your lawsuit will need to notify the court how long you've been using the mark and how the other party is infringing on your rights. Because an unregistered trademark is only granted protection within a limited geographic area, any infringing use outside of this geographic area will not be enforceable. A third party who files for federal registration of your unregistered mark, even after you've been using it, may be granted the right to use that mark in all geographic areas other than the limited area where your common law rights exist.

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Enforcing A Trademark

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How Do I Know If I'm Violating a Trademark?

A trademark identifies and distinguishes the origin of a product or service in the marketplace. It uses either a word, phrase, design or any combination of these. It helps people to differentiate between products and services. Businesses have exclusive rights to use their marks in commerce, so long as they do not violate another party's mark.

Where to Place a Trademark Sign on a Logo

Logos convey brand information quickly, with or without text. It is vital that business owners choose an appropriate logo and then protect that logo with a trademark. State law and federal law control trademarks. Marks registered at the state level are valid only within that state, while marks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office are valid in all 50 states.

Registered vs. Unregistered Trademark

When you register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you get automatic legal protection against the use of your mark without your permission, an act known as "infringement." However, a trademark doesn't have to be registered with the USPTO to qualify for legal protection. If you're the owner of an original, unregistered trademark, you might be able to take legal action against an infringer. If you win an infringement case, you're entitled to money damages from the other party.

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