A trademark is a way of branding the product to distinguish it from a similar product from other companies. Trademark can be words, symbol, and sometimes even sound or color, and maybe one element or a combination of things. Trademark are renewable forever, as long as you are actively using them. Once you cannot stop anyone from selling the same goods under different mark nor can you stop people from selling a completely different product or service under a similar mark. You can only stop people from selling the same (or very similar) thing using the same (or very similar) mark. For example, you would not be able to operate a coffee and pastry shop called Dunk-In Do-nuts. Although registration of your mark is not required, it does offer more protection than using an unregistered mark. In addition, you will want to consider registering your mark if you intend to do business nationwide, in foreign countries or if your product is one likely to be counterfeited.

How to register for a Trademark?

To qualify for the trademark registration, you must be corrected using the mark in commerce or intending to do so. Additionally, you will need to do a trademark search to ensure the mark ha snot already been registered for a similar product or service.  You may fill out and submit your application online via the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) or by mail, but the processing time for mailed applications is longer. Using a trademark application worksheet, compile the information you need, such as:

  • Your completed application form
  • A drawing of your mark, even if the mark is just a word without any design elements
  • A depiction of the mark in use, if you’re already using it
  • Identification of the exact goods you will be using the mark on

Once you know that information, apply for your mark. You will need to pay a nominal application fee when you submit your trademark application.

Service mark or Trade dress

The term trademark is often used to refer to other types of branding that are similar to trademark but technically have their own terms. Two of these are Trade dress and Service mark. A Service mark offers the same protections as a trademark but to service rather than to products. Trade dress meanwhile, refers to packaging of a product or service. This can include actual physical packing such as the color of a box. To qualify for trade dress protection, the packaging needs to be distinctive and likely to cause confusion if another product or service were to use similar dress. Non-distinctive dress-a common color, for example-can, acquire distinctiveness over time if it becomes strongly associated with the product in the public’s mind.

Unregistered vs. Registered Trademark

Simply using a trademark selling your product or service with mark displayed on it is enough to gain protection against others uses of the same words or symbol, but the protection is limited. Your rights to an unregistered trademark extend only to your general geographical area, and you may only use state courts for legal action against people who try to steal your trademark.

By registering your trademark, you gain additional protections:

  • The right to use the mark nationwide, although this may be limited within a geographic area where someone else has been using an unregistered mark on a similar product
  • Protection before you start using the mark, although you will lose that protection if you don’t start using it
  • Right to take legal action against infringers in federal court
  • Right to file your trademark with the U.S. Customs Service to stop infringing foreign products from entering the country
  • A basis for filing for trademark protection in foreign countries.


In addition, registration qualifies you to use the symbol R with your mark to notify the public that you are using a registered trademark. You may not use the R while your application is pending or on any product or service not stated in your application. To maintain your trademark right you must continue to use the mark. For a registered trademark, you will also need to file a periodic application for the renewal and declaration of use or excusable nonuse.