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How to Use a Trademark

In the United States, trademarks owners get automatic rights simply by using a mark. They can enhance those rights by registering their mark with a state authority or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But to do so, one still has to prove it has put its mark to use.

So what does “use” of a trademark mean?

For a good, it means physically affixing the mark to the good, like the word “Nike” or the “Swoosh” logo on the front of a shirt. Or on a label. Or on product packaging, like a hang tag, box, or other container.

For a service, it means displaying the mark near the place where customers pay. Or on the trademark owner’s Web site.

But what’s needed with the mark itself? Well, it needs to stand out. This is your brand; your signal to customers that the good or service they’re purchasing comes from you. So it needs prominent placement. Bold letters. Front and center. Bigger font than the rest of the text. Use of a TM symbol (for unregistered marks). By doing these things, you’re telling consumers that your word or logo is special. It’s not part of the product description or design. It’s not saying where the product was made or what ingredients or methods were used. That’s fine information to convey, but the mark is more important than that. It’s the customer’s assurance of consistent quality. That’s the message you need to highlight.

This is more than marketing; it’s the law. If your brand blends in with your text describing what you sell, the PTO will reject it as an example of your trademark use. That can mean a denied application for registration; a later first-use date than you otherwise would be able to claim; and the added cost of redesigning and manufacturing new labels, boxes, and Web pages.

Trademark owners can avoid those headaches if they simply use the mark the way it was intended.

Posted on August 15, 2011 by Registered CommenterMichael Atkins in | CommentsPost a Comment

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