Trademark FAQ: What Do the Different Marks and Designations Mean?

Dealing with trademark issues can be a bit intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the lingo. For instance, what’s the difference between a trademark and a certification mark? And what do all of those different designations mean?

To help businesses get a handle on the terminology used when talking about trademark issues, this post offers a short summary of several key terms.

The Different Types of Marks

Trademark: A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

Service mark: A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. However, the term “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

Certification mark: A certification mark is any word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof owned by one party who certifies the goods and services of others when they meet certain standards. The owner of the mark exercises control over the use of the mark; however, because the sole purpose of a certification mark is to indicate that certain standards have been met, others actually use the mark.

Collective membership mark: A collective membership mark is any word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, which indicates that the user of the mark is a member of a particular organization. The owner of the mark exercises control over the use of the mark; however, because the sole purpose of a membership mark is to indicate membership, the members are the ones who actually use the mark.

Collective Mark: A collective mark is any word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof owned by a cooperative, an association, or other collective group or organization and used by its members to indicate the source of the goods or services.

The Different Trademark Designations

You can use the symbols TM for trademark or SM for service mark to indicate that you are claims rights to the marks without having federal registration, although state rules may apply.

The Federal Registration Symbol ® can only be used after the mark is actually registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. While an application is pending, the registration symbol ®may not be used; you must wait until the mark is actually registered.

How I Can Help

Of course, this post provides only a brief overview of trademark terminology and the requirements for using various trademark designations. Before undertaking a trademark registration or using a trademark designation, it is often advisable to consult with an experienced intellectual property attorney.

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