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What's a trademark and what protections does it afford you?

When many people think of intellectual property, they often think of copyrights and patents. For business owners, though, trademarking their company's name or the different concepts associated with it, is also type of intellectual property they may wish to protect. Finding a way to legally protect trade secrets from being freely distributed to others is another type.

A trademark is tool that forms part of the branding arsenal of the marketing arm of your business. When it comes to a trademark, words can be registered for exclusive use by an entity, but so can sounds, colors, symbols or names that help explain your company's story or the quality of your products.

Trademarks, just like patents, can be registered at both a state and federal level.

When you register a trademark with a state government, you're only protected from it being infringed upon within your state. In contrast, when you register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you're protected against any infringement of it on a national scale. This protection is afforded to you the entire length of time that your company remains in operation.

Before you attempt to register your trademark with the federal government, you'll want to make sure it's not being used by someone else. You should first look up whatever catchphrase, logo, phrase or brand name you're intending to use in the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System. Doing so isn't necessarily easy.

When looking up patents, it involves much of the same process. Although there may be subtle differences between your creation and someone else's, they may not be enough to justify you being awarded a trademark or patent for your creation in the eyes of the USPTO. Instead, what you've come up with may be seen as infringing on protected intellectual property already in existence.

Having an experienced Collier County intellectual property attorney research the product or idea that you're looking to register will give you the best chance of ensuring that no infringement occurs and that it's also protected.

Source: Wells Fargo Works, "Four examples of intellectual property," accessed Jan. 25, 2018

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