As the economy rebounds we get more and more investors calling, emailing and writing to us about their new Business Ideas. We are working on social media projects, crazy food business ideas, fitness and matchmaking projects. They all have catchy names and great logos. In additon to the solid E2 Visa advice we hope to offer, a bit of Trademark law could be useful as well.
“Can I trademark this?” is a common question. The answer is generally, “Yes,” but not for the reasons you may think. In the United States, you must create a trademark yourself. A patent does not exist before it is granted by the government. This is not true for trademarks. Rather like an automobile, you must have a trademark before you can register it. To have a trademark, you must create it.
A trademark is a designation that distinguishes the source of goods or services, usually a brand name or a model name. A trademark is uniquely associated with one source. For example, FRISBEE brand flying discs come only from one company. Most people may not know that this company is Wham-O, Inc. of Emeryville, California. However, they do know that FRISBEE brand comes only from one company. The trademark gives products or services immediate recognition of the reputation and quality associated with the source of products or services.
In the United States, “common law” rights are recognized in trademarks that are used in commerce. Israel, too, is a “use” country. Registration is important, but not mandatory. In “civil law” countries, e.g., in continental Europe, trademark rights are established by registration.
In “use” countries, a trademark is established by adoption and use. Adoption is the selection of a trademark. Use comprises marking the trademark on the goods or on containers or on labels attached to the goods, depending on the physical form of the goods, and moving the goods in commerce. Placing the brand name on a web page or in an advertisement is rarely considered to be use. Company names and domain names have a complex interrelationship with trademarks that cannot be addressed in a brief article. However, you should not depend on those items to establish use. The surest way to establish use is by traditional marking.
Once the trademark is adopted, it should be marked with the “TM” symbol when it is placed on labels or in advertising. Placing “TM” next to the mark does not require any formal action, e.g., filing an application. It is a notice to the world that you are claiming rights in a common law trademark. It should virtually always be done.
Be sure that the trademark acts as a brand name and not as a description of the goods. If a designation describes the goods, it is no longer identified with the source, and it loses its trademark significance. Aspirin, escalator, and thermos were once trademarks in the United States. Now they are dictionary words.
Conflict of one trademark with another depends on whether there is a likelihood of confusion in the marketplace as to the source of goods or services. Therefore, trademarks of others may be relevant, even if they are not the same and even if the goods or services are not the same. A likelihood of confusion may exist where the goods and services are related.
For example, a company making Vera brand scarves sued a company selling Vera brand cologne. The court noted that the makers of Halston cologne also made Halston scarves, and that both products were sold on the same floor of a department store. A likelihood of confusion was established since a customer could reasonably believe that Vera cologne would have the same source as Vera scarves. Therefore, the Vera cologne makers had to “cease and desist.” In contrast, in an old but classic case, Cadillac division of General Motors sued the makers of Cadillac dog food. The court did not believe that people would think that dog food would come from a motor vehicle manufacturer.
It is a good idea to research the rights of others before introducing a trademark into the marketplace. Having to change a trademark can be very expensive in terms of replacing products and advertising and also in terms of having to reestablish a new brand name. Getting the proper professional services will reduce the level of risk associated with a new trademark.
Registration is often sought because registered trademarks provide stronger rights and are easier to enforce. A number of different forms of registration are available, each with different costs and benefits. Individual states provide state trademark registrations.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office administers the well-known federal trademark registration denoted by the ® symbol. United States trademark owners may file international trademark registration applications based on their United States applications. We always recommend to discuss your trademark case with a competent trademark Attorney in your state.