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Dec 20, 2019 Trademarks And Other Commercial Marks (What Business Owners Should Know)

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Legally speaking, a trademark is a word, phrase, or symbol that distinguishes one company’s goods and services from another’s. If you are dealing with a trademark infringement or dispute, or if you need to register a trademark, a good central Florida trademark attorney can help.

A key step in the marketing of any business is the successful creation of a name, logo, design, or symbol that consumers will instantly recognize – a trademark.

Why Should Trademarks Be Registered?

Trademark registration is not required by federal or state law, but registering your trademark establishes your exclusive right to use it on your consumer goods and in your marketing and advertising materials. No one but the owner may use a registered trademark with specific exceptions as outlined by law.

If you own a business, you can create “common law” trademark rights in a mark simply by using your trademark in commerce on a regular basis, using the designation ™ for goods and ℠ for services. However, for full legal protection and to maximize the value of a brand, it is strongly recommended that you have the trademark registered.

Trademarks for multi-state and international businesses should be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You are not required to hire an attorney to handle your trademark application unless your domicile is not located in the United States.

However, an attorney who routinely registers trademarks can offer valuable legal assistance with many key issues and help you before, during, and after the trademark application process, because the process invariably involves complicated legal procedures and issues.

The registration of a trademark gives your business exclusive legal ownership of the trademark and the exclusive right to use it. A trademark registered in the United States is recognized in most of the nations that have agreed to international trademark treaties.

When Does A Trademark Expire?

Trademarks don’t expire like copyrights and patents unless they are registered with the United States Patent & Trademark Office. Trademark rights are established and maintained by the actual, routine use of the trademark, so trademarks are “forever” as long as the owner continues regularly and routinely using the trademark in commerce.

In addition to regular use, a trademark’s registration continues for an unlimited amount of time as long as the owner files the necessary documents and pays the required fees. Belgian brewer Stella Artois has claimed the use of its trademark since 1366, and Löwenbräu has used its lion trademark since 1383.

How Are Trademarks Designated?

When a trademark is used in the United States, it should be properly designated. The symbols “™” (the trademark symbol) and “®” (the registered trademark symbol) may be used to indicate trademarks, but the “®” symbol may only be used for trademarks that have been registered.

If you do business outside of the United States – like so many businesses based in Florida – the Madrid Protocol is an international agreement that ensures trademark protection in a number of countries by submitting a single application and paying a single fee.

What Are the Other Marks You Should Know About?

The right business attorney can explain state, federal, and international trademark registration and walk business owners through the process, but trademarks are not the only commercial marks that a business owner needs to know about.

Keep reading, and you’ll learn briefly about:

  •  Service marks
  •  Collective membership marks
  •  Certification marks

What Are Service Marks?

Service marks function like trademarks, except that service marks identify a source of services rather than goods. Both trademarks and service marks are protected under federal law by the Trademark Act of 1946 (also known as the Lanham Act).

Service marks should be registered like trademarks. Like trademark infringement, service mark infringement is unlawful, and registered service mark owners have the right to take legal action against alleged service mark infringement.

A single mark can serve for some companies as both a service mark and a trademark. Usually, the letters “℠” (rather than “™”) will be printed next to a service mark.

The services that are eligible for service marks must be offered for a third party’s benefit and differ considerably from the sale of products. A service mark must be registered in order for the owner to bring a service mark infringement lawsuit in federal court.

A Florida trademark lawyer can help you register a service mark or take legal action, if necessary, to protect you against service mark infringement.

What Are Collective Membership Marks?

Like service marks and trademarks, collective membership marks are usually words, slogans, designs, and symbols. There are two types of collective membership marks:

  • The marks used by the members of an association, club, group, or collective
  •  The marks that have been formally registered by a cooperative, association, or collective with the intent of using the mark in business

A familiar example of a collective membership mark are the letters “AAA®” inside an oval shape to show an American Automobile Association membership.

Another familiar example of a collective membership mark used for business purposes is “FTD®” as used by florists who are members of the Florists’ Transworld Delivery Association.

Almost any organization or collective may apply to register a collective mark, provided that the organization or association is capable of suing and being sued. A collective or group can apply to register its collective membership mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

What Are Certification Marks?

Certification marks give consumers information at a glance. They “certify” the location where services or products originate, the material or method of manufacture, or that the work was done by a specific group (like a union) or according to exact standards (such as kosher standards).

A certification mark is a name, word, design, or symbol on a product that is used or placed there, by someone other than the owner or manufacturer, to certify certain traits or characteristics of a product.

Certification marks, like the other commercial marks discussed here, should be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

How Can a Business Attorney Help You?

Every business in Florida is different and will have its own intellectual property concerns and challenges. It is vital for a business owner to develop an effective strategy to protect trademarks, other marks, artistic creations, technical inventions, and innovations.

If you own a business in Florida, the right central Florida trademark attorney can help you register your commercial marks, copyrights, and patents. Your attorney can provide sound legal insights and advice regarding trademarks, other marks, and your intellectual properties.

If you experience trademark infringement or your intellectual property rights are violated in any way, your attorney can take the appropriate legal action on your behalf – which may mean filing a civil lawsuit and seeking damages.

Your trademark and intellectual properties may be your most valuable business assets. Put the right attorney on your team, and do not let those assets go unprotected.

By: Melody Lankford
After graduating from Davidson College, Melody Lankford earned her J.D. from Florida State University’s College of Law in 2004 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that same year. Ms. Lankford joined Raydon Corporation as in-house counsel in 2004. She worked there until 2012, when she founded the Lankford Law Firm. She is an experienced Daytona Beach small business attorney who offers sound legal counsel and experience-based insights to her business clients.

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