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US Trademark Registration Basics

By John DiGiacomo

Trademarks are logos, designs, marks, phrases, or words that are used for commercial products and services. The purpose of a trademark is to identify in the minds of consumers the commercial source for the associated goods and services. For example, the Ford and Mercedes logos are placed on their respective vehicles to identify that these particular vehicles are manufactured by Ford or Mercedes. In terms of registration, trademarks can be registered at the federal level and the state level. This article will discuss federal trademark registration. If you have questions about trademark registration, call Revision Legal at 231-714-0100 or 855-473-8474. We are a Trademark Registration Law Firm.

There are some basic rules for when a trademark can be registered. These include:

  • The trademark must function as a trademark — that is, it must be associated with one or more types of products or services and must be “connected” in the minds of consumers to those goods and/or services
  • The trademark cannot have prohibited elements — examples include the use of a state or national flag, the use of a common word or symbol, the use of the likeness of a person who has not given permission for the use of their likeness, etc.
  • The trademark must be used in commerce continually — failure to continue using a trademark will cause the trademark and the registration to lapse
  • The trademark cannot already be used in commerce and cannot be confusingly similar to one already in use
  • The registration application must be completed in full and the fees paid

At the federal level, one can apply for two types of trademark registration — an application for a currently-being-used trademark and an application for an intent-to-use trademark. The application process is similar for both, but no registration will be issued for an intent-to-use application until the applicant actually begins using the trademark in commerce.

At the federal level, trademarks are registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”). The USPTO maintains two registers for trademarks — the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register. The first is for trademarks that are actually functioning as trademarks. Generally, these are trademarks that have been long-established or new trademarks that are unique and distinctive. Distinctiveness is a key aspect of a trademark, and, generally speaking, distinctiveness is what makes the “connection” in the minds of consumers between the product/service and the commercial provider of the product/service.

The Supplemental Register is for new trademarks that have not yet become distinctive. Legally, this is called acquiring distinctiveness or secondary meaning. For example, certain trademarks begin as descriptive trademarks. A descriptive trademark is one that simply describes the product or service. Descriptive trademarks are not considered distinctive (at least when first used). For example, the trademark AMERICAN AIRLINES is not a distinctive trademark. It is a descriptive trademark since it merely describes the services and where the business is located. But, over time, a descriptive trademark can acquire distinctiveness and/or secondary meaning and begin to function as a trademark. This is why AMERICAN AIRLINES is a registered trademark on the Principal Register.

In general, the USPTO says that a descriptive trademark will become distinctive after two years of continual use in commerce. So, a descriptive trademark will be placed on the Supplemental Register for at least two years until the owner of the trademark can demonstrate that the trademark has acquired distinctiveness.

Contact The Trademark Attorneys at Revision Legal For more information, contact the experienced Trademark Lawyers at Revision Legal. You can contact us through the form on this page or call (855) 473-8474.

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