Learn About The Types of Trademarks – Simple Breakdown

A trademark is a powerful tool that grants you the ability to legally protect your brand and other intellectual property. While several trademark categories exist, the purpose remains the same: to identify, differentiate, and protect the goods or services provided by a company.

This essential asset helps to identify and differentiate products and services, adding value to both the brand and the consumer experience. This can be achieved by acquiring protection for numerous different types of material, including logos, slogans, and distinctive product attributes and packaging. Understanding these distinct possibilities for intellectual property ownership helps businesses select the right kind of protection. It also encourages innovation and the creation of distinct brand identities.

In this article, we offer a simple breakdown of the various types of trademarks that can benefit and safeguard your business.

Table Of Contents

Difference between Trademarks, Service Marks and Trade Dress

There are so many types of trademarks that we lawyers tend to refer to them generally as either trademarks, or “marks” because the distinctions aren’t that important. For example, if you must know what is a service mark, it is identical to a trademark, except that it protects a service instead of a product or good. Simply put, the service mark vs trademark distinction is nothing more than whether or not you sell a product or a service.

Likewise, a trade name is just a trademark for what you call yourself,  a collective mark is just a trademark for membership associations (like the “Girl Scouts”), and a certification mark is just a trademark to establish quality control like the (“Kosher” symbol on your pickles). But regardless of the name, all of the above trademark types are designed to establish your brand as the source of a particular product, service, membership, or quality, and differ very little in how they are obtained or enforced.

But sometimes your brand is recognizable just by looking at the product itself. Trademark protections that cover the shape or configuration of an actual product is called a trade dress. For example, if you order a fast food kid’s meal and that meal comes in a box with handles that are shaped into golden arches, you would probably identify that product as a Happy Meal® from McDonalds® on that basis alone. That is a trade dress, and it is different than simply putting the name McDonalds® or BigMac® on a product or its packaging.

Common Law v. Registered Trademarks

Knowing the various types of trademarks is beneficial for your business. Why? Because it helps to understand the difference between common law and registered trademarks. Below is a breakdown of the types of trademarks.

Common Law Trademarks

You do not need to actually register a trademark to obtain some basic, “common law trademark rights” rights in your brand. In fact, common Law trademarks are automatically created the moment you distinguish your brand from that of a competitor. 

restaurant trademark example

Trademarks claiming these protections often show a “TM” or “SM” symbol next to the mark. However, common law trademark rights are “territorial” in nature, meaning they can only be enforced where you can demonstrate proof of priority. For example, if you opened a restaurant in Texas, and your competitor later opened a restaurant across the street, your common law trademark rights would likely allow you to force that competitor to either stop or rebrand. But if the competitor was in New York, your common law trademark would likely be unenforceable against them because the infringing use is outside of the trademark’s territorial rights.

Registered Trademarks

Federal trademark registrations and state trademark registrations often show an “®” symbol next to the mark, and are far more powerful than common law trademarks. A state trademark registration provides the presumption that your trademark is valid in that state, and the presumption that your use of the trademark was first. Likewise, a federal trademark registration provides proof of validity and the presumption of first use anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Guam!

registered trademark example for restaurant

For example, if you opened a restaurant in Texas and a competitor later opened a restaurant in New York, your federal trademark registration would likely allow you to force them to stop or rebrand even if you have never been to New York. There are of course many nuances to obtaining and enforcing registered trademarks, so make sure to consult an attorney before committing to any specific plan.




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