A Brief Introduction to Trademarks

Imagine having a business asset that lasts for centuries and increases in value over time. If I asked what you were thinking of, you’d probably say, “Real estate.” That’s the only possibility, isn’t it? No matter how you run your business, commercial property always increases in value, because it’s a unique asset and, as the line goes, “God ain’t making any more of it.” Yet, the asset I have in mind is a trademark, which is also by its very definition unique and exclusive.

According to Gene Quinn, writing a few years back for the IPWatchdog blog, there is historical evidence of trademark going back 4,000 years! That got me wondering what the oldest trademarks still in use might be. Here are a few candidates for the honor:

  • Bass Ale — The distinctive red triangle was the first registered trademark in Great Britain, following the law enacted on August 13, 1875 creating the Department of Registration of Trademarks, which opened in London on January 1, 1876. But at 143, Bass is still a relative baby.
  • Stella Artois — Although the brewery established in 1366 has gone through a couple of name changes, the original horn logo has remained the same for six and a half centuries.
  • Löwenbräu — This Munich beer producer has seen its share of corporate changes over the centuries. But the company claims to have the oldest continuously used trademark in the world, going back to 1383.

Now, you’re probably not thinking six hundred years down the line for your company, but an asset with this kind of staying power deserves serious consideration. So, here’s a little of what the average company owner needs to know about the importance of trademark.

A trademark is simply a name, logo or symbol that enables a consumer to identify the source of goods or services. This empowers the consumer to make an educated choice to repurchase what has been acceptable in the past and reject what has been disappointing.

To obtain limited protection for your company name, logo and/or symbol, you don’t have to file any paperwork. You can gain the right to exclusive use of your trademark simply by using it in the course of business. By exclusive right, the law means that no one else can use a trademark that is likely to cause confusion about whether a product came from you or an imitator.

However, if you go through the steps to obtain a federal registration for your trademark, your protections are substantially stronger. The advantages include:

  • Constructive notice to the public of your claim of ownership of your mark
  • The legal presumption of your ownership of your mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide
  • The ability to use your U.S registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries
  • The right to file your U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent anyone from importing goods that infringe on your trademark

Without a federal registration, you are permitted to use the “TM” (trademark) or “SM” (service mark) designation to give public notice of your claim to your mark. However, you may only use the federal registration symbol ® after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has approved your application and registered your trademark.

To be successful, every company no matter how small has to claim its distinction. Trademark registration is a powerful tool for doing that. To learn more, talk to a knowledgeable trademark attorney today.