The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office defines a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
So what does that mean for you? Well, if you want to promote your death-metal band with an awesome symbol that is so unique that anyone who sees your symbol on a t-shirt or poster will think of your latest album and start head-banging, that symbol is your trademark.
The Washington Secretary of State Corporations Division explains that “Registration of a trademark provides the registered user with exclusive use of that trademark and protects against infringements upon the user’s rights.” So if your mortal rivals in that OTHER death-metal band across town – the ones who care more about their hair than the music – try to copy your symbol in their logo, you can legally tell them to buzz off.
A trademark can be registered in three ways:
- The U.S. Trademark & Patent Office,
- Your state’s trademark office (in Washington, it’s the Secretary of State’s Office); or
- Both the federal and state office.
A big difference between registration at the state and federal levels is that state trademarks protect your symbol only within that state or region, while the federal trademark gives you the broadest level of protection. But a federal trademark can be pretty pricey. Trademarks at the state level offer you less protection, but are a lot cheaper.
By Edward Burns, Law Student, University of Washington Law
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