Costly Misconceptions About Trademarks

By: Michael J Foycik Jr. 
June 8, 2013 
The author is a patent attorney with over 28 years experience in patents and trademarks. For further information, please email at, or call at 877-654-3336.

Getting a trademark is a great idea, but things may not be that simple.  There are some misconceptions that can cost time, money, or even loss of rights.

One common misconception is that a registered trademark is necessary to have enforceable trademark rights.  We are all familiar with registered trademarks – the kind with the ® registration symbol.  But, trademark rights normally arise from actual use, even for unregistered trademarks.  State courts can enforce such rights arising from actual use, even in the absence of a federally registered trademark.  No registration, no problem – sometimes.

Getting a registered trademark requires filing a trademark application.  Choices need to be made right at the start: actual use or intent-to-use; type of goods/services; logo or word mark.  These choices can have profound consequences.  Even the U.S. Trademark Office recommends having an experienced trademark attorney help with those choices – you'll see the warning for that in the online trademark  application filing forms and elsewhere.

Actual use sounds better than intent-to-use.  Maybe so - unless there is a conflict with another trademark filed on an intent-to-use basis.  Then, surprisingly, the owner of the intent-to-use to application is permitted to introduce evidence of events that show an intent-to-use that has occurred before the application's filing date.  The actual-use applicant does not have the same rights.  Such evidence of intent-to-use can be scant: a mere mention at a business meeting, or an order for design of the mark, for example.  This is peculiar to federal trademarks; state courts can apply their own standards and might well decide specific cases differently.

Choice of goods/services is important: more is better, right?  Not so fast.  Listing multiple catergories is all good and well, until you have to prove actual sales.  Sure, a Statement of Use might work with the U.S. Trademark Office, but at a cost: forfeiture of rights if untrue.  When it comes time to enforce your trademark rights against an infringer, it may become necessary to have proof of use in specific categories of goods.  Listing a few categories of goods is fine, and once you get your trademark registered your future use in other categories will allow you to file further trademark applications for those additional uses.