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What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design or combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs that identifies the goods and services of one party and distinguishes them from those of another. A mark not only identifies the goods and services with which it is associated, it serves as a guarantee of quality. Although initially only words, numbers, and designs were considered to be marks, over the years, the definition of a trademark has been expanded by judicial decisions to include configurations of the goods themselves, containers for the goods, colors, fragrances, décor, and ambience (e.g., for restaurants).

The Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946) is the federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks, and unfair competition. State trademark registration protects trademark owners in the state where the trademark is registered.

What are the different types of marks?

  • Trademarks are used on products/goods (TASTYCAKES, IBM computers).
  • Service marks are used to identify services (BURGER KING restaurant, WALT DISNEY WORLD amusement park).
  • Collective membership marks identify members of an organization, association, or union (PHI BETA KAPPA honorary fraternity, SAG Screen Actors Guild).
  • Collective trademark/service marks identify the products or services of all of the members of an organization (BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU for information services relating to business practices).
  • Certification marks identify marks that are used by a party other than its owner to certify quality, origin, material, or mode of manufacture of goods or services. These marks also show that the product or services are manufactured or provided by members of a union or other organization (GOOD HOUSEKEEPING adherence to specific standards).

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