Establishing Strong Trademark Rights: What is a Trademark?

This post will kick off a discussion of trademark rights–what they are, how to get them, and how to protect your trademark. It’s a good idea to start with the basics, and so first let’s talk about what is a trademark?

The obvious answer is that your logo is probably your main trademark. But a trademark can be much more than just your logo.

A trademark is any distinctive sign or indicator that you use to distinguish your products or services from all the others. Think of the Nike® swoosh or McDonald’s® golden arches. Those and many other symbols instantly evoke certain kinds of products and certain levels of quality. Overtime, a mark creates expectations among consumers and develops a reputation for the trademark holder. A well-established mark makes consumer choices easier. As a consumer, I know the general quality of the product I’m purchasing without expending too much brain power—and that’s what trademarks are all about.

Trademarks come in many forms. They can be visual graphics, sounds, or even smells. They range from standard logos and website domain names to slogans, product packaging, and even commercial jingles. Some businesses have gone so far as to trademark colors. Virtually any identifier that reminds the consumer of you and your product or service is a trademark, and you can develop and secure legal rights in those aspects of your business that make you stand out from all the rest.

When a mark is used to identify a service instead of a product, it’s proper to call it a service mark. But for simplicity’s sake I’ll primarily use the term “trademark” or even just “mark” to discuss the broad topic that is federal trademark registration.

Trademark Ground Rules

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing blog posts on three main concepts, or ground rules, relating to trademark law: 1) consumer confusion, 2) The importance of priority in the use of your trademark, and 3) levels of distinctiveness. While consumer confusion and priority are important concepts that help determine the metes and bounds of your trademark protection, trademark distinctiveness is perhaps the largest part of how you establish strong trademark rights.

About Jacob Tingen


phone: (804) 477-1720

I'm a Virginia attorney who specializes in trademarks, technology law, and online practice management. I also have a lot of experience with immigration law and I coordinate pro bono immigration services through a local nonprofit. When I'm not practicing law I'm designing websites or helping professionals with online advertising campaigns. Read more about me here.

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