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What is a Trademark?

Posted by Dale Berkebile on Fri, Oct 23, 2009

What is a Trademark - image

A trademark is typically a word, phrase, or logo that distinguishes the goods or services of its owner from those of others. In other words, a trademark indicates the source of goods or services to consumers. When you see “Coca Cola” on a vending machine, you know that you will be able to purchase the “Coca Cola” line of beverages. Implicitly, the exclusivity of a trademark also helps distinguish a brand from other competition. At the “Coca Cola” vending machine, you would not expect “Pepsi” products.

Trademark protection can also extended beyond words and images. The “look and feel” of a product may also be the subject of protection. The “look and feel”, called trade dress, might be the shape of a soda bottle or the color and theme of a restaurant. Other unique, source identifying marks can include color or sound. I suspect that I wouldn't need to tell you the name of a company that performs delivery service to homes and businesses using brown trucks. I also probably wouldn't need to tell you where to purchase wireless phone service after you hear a “Hello, Hello, Hello” jingle. (OK: UPS and MetroPCS).

So which aspects of a business might warrant trademark protection? In most businesses the branding, and thus the sought trademark, is centered around the name of the business. This is frequently the main branding for startups and small businesses. Using a large business example, think of the “Nike” trademark, which should bring sportswear and shoes to mind. After the business name, additional trademarks may be sought for other aspects of the business. The separate trademarks may or may not be related to the business name. For example, a lot of bottled water consumers don't realize that “Dasani” is “Coca Cola” product due to the branding strategy used. Some other aspects of a business which may warrant protection include lines of products (“Nike Air”), specific products (“Air Max Lebron”), or themes (“We Love To See You Smile”).

A good starting point in deciding what to protect is to ask:
  • “what aspects of my business distinguish me?"
  • “what aspects build goodwill with my customers?"
  • “what aspects distinguish me from the competition?”


This article was written by a strategic business partner of Brandwise.

John Lindsay is an intellectual property attorney focusing on patent, copyright, trademark, and technology law for startups
and small businesses. He can be reached at 214-736-4306 or john@StartupIPServices.com. His website is


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Tags: Brand Building, Brand Development, Branding, Trademark, Trade Dress

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