Let's talk about the Trademark.
First a disclaimer - I do not practice this type of intellectual property law. But I have had times in the past where I had to apply for trademarks so I have a 10,000 foot view and that is what you are going to get here.
We tend to call these marks. There are two basic types of marks: trademarks and service marks. Trademarks are associated with goods, while service marks are associated with services. I should mention that there are also certification marks, collective trademarks and service marks, and collective membership marks. These types of marks are relatively rare.
Let's try some more formal definitions:
A service mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.
A certification mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce with the owner’s permission by someone other than its owner, to certify regional or other geographic origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of someone's goods or services, or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization.
A collective mark is a trademark or service mark used, or intended to be used, in commerce, by the members of a cooperative, an association, or other collective group or organization, including a mark which indicates membership in a union, an association, or other organization.
In the "marks" world we tend to think about words, symbols, letters, slogans, designs, features of packaging, color combinations, animations and even sounds. Any of these could be used as trademarks or service marks.
The rights in a mark are a business asset that can be sold or licensed to others. You can also use the mark to maintain yourself as the exclusive source of a product or service. I frankly think you should always give good thought to using trademarks or service marks to protect your business. A good trademark can be very valuable in some businesses and (compared to patents) are not as expensive to get and defend.
One thing to remember. Trademarks do not have to be registered before they are used. In fact your life will probably be simpler if you use it before registering it. Also, a lawyer is not required to get a registration, but like a lot of other things you may find it to be less frustrating to hire someone who knows how to do it right. Unfortunately, dealing with the federal government is not most people's favorite cup of tea.
More to come about doing a search and the general process of getting a trademark in the U.S. and internationally.
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