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Archived updates for Tuesday, June 27, 2006

General Information About Trademarks

Basic Facts About Trademarks" is available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at with answers to "Trademark Frequently Asked Questions" at The following is a general discussion of Trademark Law and the Federal trademark registration process. This discussion is not exhaustive. For example, there are special circumstances and exceptions to general rules that are not discussed below. It is also subject to change in the laws, fees, and estimated costs.

What is a Trademark?

A TRADEMARK is either a word, phrase, symbol or design, or combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms "trademark" and "mark" are used to refer to both trademarks and service marks, whether they are word marks or other types of marks. Normally, a mark for goods appears on the product or on its packaging, while a service mark appears in advertising for the services.

A trademark is different from a copyright or a patent. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

Establishing Trademark Rights

Trademark rights arise from either (1) actual use of the mark in connection with the offering or sale of goods or services in commerce, or (2) the filing of a proper application to register a mark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. PTO, or PTO) stating that the applicant has a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce regulated by the U.S. Congress. (See below, under "Types of Applications," for a discussion of what is meant by the terms commerce and use in commerce.) Federal registration is not required to establish rights in a mark, nor is it required to begin use of a mark. However, federal registration can secure benefits beyond the rights acquired by merely using a mark. For example, the owner of a federal registration is presumed to be the owner of the mark for the goods and services specified in the registration, and to be entitled to use the mark nationwide.

There are two related but distinct types of rights in a mark: the right to register and the right to use. Generally, the first party who either uses a mark in commerce or files an application in the PTO has the ultimate right to register that mark. The PTO's authority is limited to determining the right to register. The right to use a mark can be more complicated to determine. This is particularly true when two parties have begun use of the same or similar marks without knowledge of one another and neither has a federal registration. Only a court can render a decision about the right to use, such as issuing an injunction or awarding damages for infringement. It should be noted that a federal registration can provide significant advantages to a party involved in a court proceeding. The PTO cannot provide advice concerning rights in a mark. Only a private attorney can provide such advice.

Unlike copyrights or patents, trademark rights can last indefinitely if the owner continues to use the mark to identify its goods or services. The term of a federal trademark registration is 10 years, with 10-year renewal terms. However, between the fifth and sixth year after the date of initial registration, the registrant must file an affidavit setting forth certain information to keep the registration alive. If no affidavit is filed, the registration is canceled.

Use of the "TM," "SM" and "®" Symbols

Anyone who claims rights in a mark may use the TM (trademark) or SM (service mark) designation with the mark to alert the public to the claim. It is not necessary to have a registration, or even a pending application, to use these designations. The claim may or may not be valid. The registration symbol, ®, may only be used when the mark is formally registered in the U.S. PTO as discussed in more detail below. It is improper to use this latter symbol at any point before the registration issues.

Searches for Conflicting Marks

An applicant is not required to conduct a search for conflicting marks prior to applying with the U.S. PTO. It is generally advisable, however, to conduct a clearance search for conflicting marks not only prior to applying for registration with the U.S. PTO, but before adopting a mark in commerce. Such a search can not only provide a basis for predicting the potential for successfully obtaining a registration, but also predicting the potential for infringement of the trademark rights of another.

Typically two different levels of searching may be conducted. On one level, a search of registrations issued by the U.S. PTO and applications pending before the U.S. PTO along with state registrations (since each state provides a parallel registration procedure for obtaining a registration for that particular state) may be conducted at a cost of approximately $500.00. Such a search has drawbacks in that it does not include a search of common law trademark uses where the party using the mark has not sought registration. The U.S. Trademark Laws provide superior rights to the first party to adopt and use a mark and not the first party to seek or obtain registration. Thus, common law rights are also important.

A second level of searching includes not only the databases of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and each state trademark office, but also an attempt to search various directories which might reveal common law uses of marks by third parties. Ordinarily such a search is conducted through a third party service provider that maintains a proprietary common law trademark database. This level of searching typically costs about $1,000.00 to $1,200.00. We can discuss with you which level of searching may be more appropriate for your situation.

Benefits of Federal Trademark Registration

Although trademark registration is not required in the U.S. it does provide several advantages, including
  • constructive notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark;
  • a legal presumption of the registrant's ownership of the mark and the registrant's exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the registration;
  • the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court;
  • the use of the U.S registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries; and
  • the ability to file the U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

Types and Basis of Applications for Federal Registration

An applicant may apply for federal registration in three principal ways. (1) An applicant who has already commenced using a mark in commerce may file based on that use (a "use" application). (2) An applicant who has not yet used the mark may apply based on a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce (an "intent-to-use" application). For the purpose of obtaining federal registration, commerce means all commerce which may lawfully be regulated by the U.S. Congress, for example, interstate commerce or commerce between the U.S. and another country. The use in commerce must be a bona fide use in the ordinary course of trade, and not made merely to reserve a right in a mark. Use of a mark in promotion or advertising before the product or service is actually provided under the mark on a normal commercial scale does not qualify as use in commerce. Use of a mark in purely local commerce within a state does not qualify as "use in commerce." If an applicant files based on a bona fide intention to use in commerce, the applicant will have to use the mark in commerce and submit an allegation of use to the PTO before the PTO will register the mark. (3) Additionally, under certain international agreements, an applicant from outside the United States may file in the United States based on an application or registration in another country.

A United States registration provides protection only in the United States and its territories. If the owner of a mark wishes to protect a mark in other countries, the owner must seek protection in each country separately under the relevant laws.

Purely local use within a state may qualify for registration of the mark with the trademark office of the state in which use is made. Each state has its own trademark office that operates separately from the U.S. PTO.

Who May File an Application?

The application must be filed in the name of the owner of the mark; usually an individual, corporation or partnership. The owner of a mark controls the nature and quality of the goods or services identified by the mark.

Laws & Rules Governing Federal Registration

The federal registration of trademarks is governed by the Trademark Act of 1946, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq.

Other Types of Applications

In addition to trademarks and service marks, the Trademark Act provides for federal registration of other types of marks, such as certification marks, collective trademarks and service marks, and collective membership marks. These types of marks are relatively rare.

Filing Date

The U.S. PTO is responsible for the federal registration of trademarks. When an application is received, the PTO reviews it to determine whether it meets the minimum requirements for receiving a filing date. If the application meets the filing requirements, the U.S. PTO assigns it a serial number and sends the applicant a receipt about two months after filing. If the minimum requirements are not met, the entire mailing, including the filing fee, is returned to the applicant.

Application Filing Requirements

To receive a filing date, the applicant must provide all of the following:

  1. A written application form;
  2. A drawing of the mark on a separate piece of paper;
  3. The required filing fee;
  4. If the application is filed based upon prior use of the mark in commerce, three specimens for each class of goods or services. The specimens must show actual use of the mark with the goods or services. The specimens may be identical or they may be examples of three different uses showing the same mark; and
  5. An identification of the goods and/or services to be marketed in connection with the mark.
    Identification of the Goods and/or Services

A mark can only be registered for specific goods and services. The goods and services listed will establish the scope of the applicant's rights in the relevant mark. The goods and services specified in the application must be the applicant's actual "goods in trade" or the actual services the applicant renders for the benefit of others. Use language that would be readily understandable to the general public. For example, if the applicant uses or intends to use the mark to identify "candy," "word processors," "baseballs and baseball bats," "travel magazines," "dry cleaning services" or "restaurant services" the identification should clearly and concisely list each such item. If the applicant uses indefinite terms, such as "accessories," "components," "devices," "equipment," "food," "materials," "parts," "systems," "products," or the like, then those words must be followed by the word "namely" and the goods or services listed by their common commercial name(s).

The applicant must be very careful when identifying the goods and services. Because the filing of an application establishes certain presumptions of rights as of the filing date, the application may not be amended later to add any products or services not within the scope of the identification. For example, the identification of "clothing" could be amended to "shirts and jackets," which narrows the scope, but could not be amended to "retail clothing store services," which would change the scope. Similarly, "physical therapy services" could not be changed to "medical services" because this would broaden the scope of the identification. Also, if the identification includes a trade channel limitation, deleting that limitation would broaden the scope of the identification.

The identification of goods and services must not describe the mode of use of the mark, such as on labels, stationery, menus, signs, containers or in advertising. This information is, instead, discussed in the "method-of-use clause," of the trademark application. For example, in the identification of goods and services, the term "advertising" usually is intended to identify a service rendered by advertising agencies. Moreover, "labels," "menus," "signs" and "containers" are specific goods. If the applicant identifies these goods or services by mistake, the applicant may not amend the identification to the actual goods or services of the applicant. Thus, if the identification indicates "menus," it could not be amended to "restaurant services." Similarly, if the goods are identified as "containers or labels for jam," the identification could not be amended to "jam."

NOTE: If the identification does not identify any recognizable goods or services, the application will be denied a filing date and returned to the applicant. For example, if the applicant specifies the mark itself or wording such as "company name," "corporate name," or "company logo," and nothing else, the application will be denied a filing date and returned to the applicant. If the applicant identifies the goods and services too broadly as, for example, "advertising and business," "miscellaneous," "miscellaneous goods and services," or just "products," or "services," the application will also be denied a filing date and returned to the applicant.


About six months after filing, an examining attorney at the PTO reviews the application and determines whether the mark may be registered. In reviewing the application, the examining attorney (at the PTO) conducts a search of issued U.S. trademark registrations and pending applications for a conflicting mark. The application fee, which covers processing and search costs, will not be refunded even if a conflict is found and the mark cannot be registered.

To determine whether there is a conflict between two marks, the PTO determines whether there would be likelihood of confusion, that is, whether relevant consumers would be likely to associate the goods or services of one party with those of the other party as a result of the use of the marks at issue by both parties. The principal factors to be considered in reaching this decision are the similarity of the marks (comparing their sound, meaning and appearance) and the commercial relationship between the goods and services identified by the marks. To find a conflict, the marks need not be identical, and the goods and services do not have to be the same.
If the examining attorney initially refuses to allow the mark to be registered, the examining attorney will issue a letter listing any grounds for refusal and any corrections required in the application. The examining attorney may also contact the applicant by telephone if only minor corrections are required. The applicant must respond to any objections within six months of the mailing date of the letter, or the application will be abandoned. If the applicant's response does not overcome all objections, the examining attorney will issue a final refusal. The applicant may then appeal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an administrative tribunal within the PTO.

A common ground for refusal is likelihood of confusion between the applicant's mark and a registered mark. Marks which are merely descriptive in relation to the applicant's goods or services, or a feature of the goods or services, may also be refused. Marks consisting of geographic terms or surnames may also be refused. Merely descriptive marks and primarily merely geographic terms may be registerable upon a showing that they have acquired distinctiveness in connection with the applicant's goods and/or services. Marks may be refused for other reasons as well. And often the examining attorney will request that the applicant revise the identification of the goods and/or services listed in the application on which the applicant claims to be using his mark or intends to use his mark in the future.

Publication for Opposition

If there are no objections, or if the applicant overcomes all grounds for refusal, the examining attorney will approve the mark for publication in the Official Gazette, a weekly publication of the PTO. The PTO will send a NOTICE OF PUBLICATION to the applicant indicating the date of publication. In the case of two or more applications for similar marks, the PTO will publish the application with the earliest effective filing date first. Any party who believes it may be damaged by the registration of the mark has 30 days from the date of publication to file an opposition to registration. An opposition is similar to a formal proceeding in the federal courts, but is held before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. If no opposition is filed, the application enters the next stage of the registration process.

Issuance of Certificate of Registration or Notice of Allowance

If the application was based upon the actual use of the mark in commerce prior to approval for publication, the PTO will register the mark and issue a registration certificate about 12 weeks after the date the mark was published, if no opposition is timely filed.

If, instead, the mark was published based upon the applicant's statement of having a bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce, the PTO will issue a NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE about 12 weeks after the date the mark was published, again provided no opposition was filed. The applicant then has six months from the date of the NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE to either (1) use the mark in commerce and submit a STATEMENT OF USE, or (2) request a six-month EXTENSION OF TIME TO FILE A STATEMENT OF USE (see forms and instructions in this booklet). The applicant may request additional extensions of time only as noted in the instructions on the back of the extension form. If the STATEMENT OF USE is filed and approved, the PTO will then issue the registration certificate.


The costs for preparing and filing an application to register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. PTO) typically run no more than $1,000.00, including our fees, docketing fees, the U.S. PTO application filing fee of $335.00 for one class of goods or services listed in the application, and incidental expenses such as photocopying, postage, and the like. If more than one class of goods or services are included in the application an additional filing fee of $335.00 per additional class will be required. In addition to the application filing fee, applicants filing based on a bona fide intention to use a mark in commerce must submit a governmental fee of $100.00 for each class of goods or services in the application when filing any of the following:


Additional fees and costs are incurred during the trademark registration process. For example, after the application has been filed there ordinarily will be fees and expenses incurred in reporting actions taken by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the application, as well as responding to any action taken by the U.S. PTO (such as the issuance of a letter presenting grounds for refusal which allows a six month period for a response). Additionally, there will be fees and expenses incurred in preparing and filing an Amendment to Allege Use, a Statement of Use, or a Request for Extension of Time to file a Statement of Use in addition to the government filing fees mentioned above.


If the applicant has already used the mark in commerce and files based on this use in commerce, then the applicant must submit three specimens per class showing use of the mark in commerce with the application. If, instead, the application is based on a bona fide intention to use mark in commerce, the applicant must submit three specimens per class at the time the applicant files either an AMENDMENT TO ALLEGE USE or a STATEMENT OF USE.

The specimens must be actual samples of how the mark is being used in commerce. The specimens may be identical or they may be examples of three different uses showing the same mark.

If the mark is used on goods, examples of acceptable specimens are tags or labels which are attached to the goods, containers for the goods, displays associated with the goods, or photographs of the goods showing use of the mark on the goods themselves. If it is impractical to send an actual specimen because of its size, photographs or other acceptable reproductions that show the mark on the goods, or packaging for the goods, must be furnished. Invoices, announcements, order forms, bills of lading, leaflets, brochures, catalogs, publicity releases, letterhead, and business cards generally are not acceptable specimens for goods.
If the mark is used for services, examples of acceptable specimens are signs, brochures about the services, advertisements for the services, business cards or stationery showing the mark in connection with the services, or photographs which show the mark either as it is used in the rendering or advertising of the services. In the case of a service mark, the specimens must either show the mark and include some clear reference to the type of services rendered under the mark in some form of advertising, or show the mark as it is used in the rendering of the service, for example on a store front or the side of a delivery or service truck.

Additional Requirements For Intent-To-Use Applications

An applicant who files its application based on having a bona fide intention to use a mark in commerce must make use of the mark in commerce before the mark can register. After use in commerce begins, the applicant must submit:

  1. three specimens evidencing use as discussed above;
  2. a fee of $100.00 per class of goods or services in the application; and
  3. either (1) an AMENDMENT TO ALLEGE USE if the application has not yet been approved for publication, or (2) a STATEMENT OF USE if the mark has been published and the PTO has issued a NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE.

Information Needed

One additional point is of note that relates to the ability to claim priority based on a prior filed U.S. application. The U.S. has entered into treaties with most foreign countries (including the Community Trademark Office) that provide that an application filed outside of the U.S. within six (6) months of a corresponding U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, can be considered as if it had been filed on the same date as the U.S. application. This ability to claim priority on a U.S. application allows for the possibility that a U.S. application may be filed first and subsequently consideration may be given to the filing of any foreign applications. Where there is an interest in filing foreign applications, we recommend that the foreign applications be filed within six months of the date of the U.S. application filing date in order to make a claim of priority on the U.S. application filing date.

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