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Trademark Basics

Trademark Basics: Trademarks v. Tradenames


A “word, phrase symbol or design” used to identify the source or “brand” of a particular good or service is generally called a “mark”.  Those marks which identify goods are called “trademarks”.  Those marks which identify services are called “service marks”.


Trade names are names adopted by entities under which they trade their goods or services.  Trade names are nothing more that alternate names under which a person or legal entity does business.  A single person or entity can trade under various trade names.  Trade names, though, must be registered with the state governments where the entity is incorporated, and does business.  Registration puts the public on notice that the name refers back to a legal entity, its owner.  With registration usually comes the exclusive right to registration within that state.  (This registration exclusivity should not be confused with or compared to the  exclusivity that comes with mark registration discussed below.) 


Trade name registration is typically cheap, easy, required by law, but provides a low level of legal protections or rights in the name.  By comparison mark registration is more expensive, takes a longer period of time, is not required by law, but can provide the exclusive right to the use of the mark in a given country or region.  In order to register a mark for use in the United States, application must be made with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The application must include an allegation of an intent to use the mark in the future, or be accompanied with evidence of actual use of the mark in commerce.

An applicant must decide not only what marks to seek protection for, but also in what classification of goods or services.  A filing fee must be paid (over $300), and the actual use or intent to use the mark established, for each of the classes of goods or services in which the applicant seeks registration (currently over forty classes are avilable).  Thus, registration for the mark in all conceivable uses (classes) is generally not achievable or desirable.

Prior to the use of any trade name or mark, a comprehensive search for availability is recommended.  More information about trade marks can be found at

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