United States trademark "common law" provides basic protection over trademark property rights. Common law generally refers to unwritten law. Under common law, any business that uses a unique mark on its goods in commercial trade automatically qualifies as the trademark owner. When two businesses use and claim ownership over the same mark, a legal dispute arises. Federal registration can easily resolve this type of dispute because it guarantees exclusive trademark rights to the registered owner.
Federal Trademark Registration
Federal registration offers the greatest trademark protection. The federal trademark registration process covers business names, logos and slogans. The registration application requires a description of the mark, drawing of it, dates of first use and product samples. The application includes several bases for filing, including "use in commerce," "intent to use," foreign registration and pending foreign application. A business can protect its trademark throughout the development phase with an "intent to use" trademark application. This type of trademark gives federal trademark protection prior to the actual use of the trademark in the marketplace.
Date of First Use in Commerce
Trademark common law, state law and federal law all consider the date the owner first used the mark in commercial trade. The first business to use the mark on its products within a defined region qualifies as the legal trademark owner. Competing businesses with similar trademarks in the same marketplace often dispute the first date of use and legal ownership of the mark. As a result, businesses must be prepared to prove when they first used the mark. The federal registration process includes a signed affidavit of first use of the mark anywhere and the first use in commercial trade. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prohibits registration of the same or similar marks by different owners.
Infringement, Dilution and Loss of Rights
Regardless of common law, state and federal trademark protections, trademark holders must continuously protect their trademarks. The owner must use the mark continuously and prevent any other business from using it. Other businesses can easily steal trademarks, illegally use them on counterfeit products and diminish the quality of goods or services offered under the mark. Therefore, a trademark owner must take action against all illegal activity and take immediate legal action to stop any type of unauthorized use. Excessive and illegal overuse of the trademark name can weaken the product brand and its identity. Federal trademark registration provides the best protection against illegal activities that infringe on trademark rights.