What a Trademark is and why Trademarks Matter
A trademark is a name, symbol, or visual logo that is used by a company or individual to give their goods and services a distinguishable identity and origin. Almost anything can be registered as a trademark, as long as it can be used to identify its owner’s goods or services. Although names, symbols, and logos are most common, trademarks can also be a combination of these. Trademarks can go as far as including moving images, sounds, colors, and more. Although the word trademark can be applied in a general sense to include all kinds of names and logos in the market, there are differences in the kinds of marks that are commonly known as trademarks. There are four kinds of marks where trademarks are concerned: (1) trademarks, (2) service marks, (3) certification marks, and (4) collective marks.
Trademarks are brands that are placed on goods to identify their source of origin. Some examples of these goods include products such as Coca-Cola or Dell. A can of Coca-Cola or a Dell laptop exist as tangible goods that consumers can purchase. The trademark name of “Coca-Cola” or “Dell” serves to distinguish Coca-Cola from other soft drinks, or Dell laptops from laptops manufactured and sold by other computer technology corporations. Trademarks can also be used to suggest that a product has a certain flair or appeal to attract a particular demographic at a certain point in time. Large corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company know the importance of maintaining trademarks on their goods, as the company owns over 500 brands worldwide.
Service marks on the other hand are used by companies or individuals to advertise the services that they offer to the public. The service marks also function to help the public identify the company/individual offering the service. Services are intangible goods, such as Google or Facebook. Trademarks and service marks immediately produce an image in the consumer’s mind as to the kind of product or service they provide. Over time and with enough traction, trademarks and service marks become more widely known and the products/services that they relate to gain proportional popularity.
Certification marks differ from trademarks and service marks in that they are not directly targeted towards consumers but rather products themselves. Certification marks can appear on products to denote that the products comply with a set of regulated practices and/or standards necessary to achieve the certification. One example of this is the USDA Organic certification. In order for a product to be USDA Organic certified it must go through a lengthy process to ensure that it complies with a stringent set of standards. The certification verifies to consumers that the product in question is up-to-par with consumer expectations. The standards of one certification mark are the same across the board. Consumers know that when they purchase a product that is USDA Organic certified, it underwent the same process and maintains the same level of standards that other products with the USDA Organic certification are expected to have.
Collective marks refer to goods, services, or members of a collective organization or association. One widely known collective mark is the Girl Scouts. Girl Scout cookies and other products under the Girl Scouts name can be sold by members of the organization. Although there are countless members, consumers know that no matter where they are in the country, they are still buying the same cookies made by the same organization. Likewise, consumers know that when they see a Girl Scouts member, that the member is representative of the organization.
The significance of these marks can seem inconsequential to most people. However, they perform an essential function in maintaining company-consumer integrity. While it is important for owners of a brand to maintain their identity and restrict others from using their name or logo, trademarks can also protect the general public. When consumers purchase a can of Coca-Cola, for instance, they expect a carbonated soft drink manufactured by The Coca-Cola Company. However, if the Coca-Cola trademark did not exist, nothing would stop another person from utilizing the Coca-Cola name to distribute their own soft drinks in the likeness of the original company while deceiving the public in the process.
Although unethical, there will always be an incentive to make a profit off the popularity of a major brand such as Coca-Cola. An unknowing consumer may purchase what they believe and expect to be Coca-Cola and end up with a completely different drink, or a completely different product. Thankfully, trademark protections can prevent this from happening. Companies that own their mark know they can seek legal action when an unauthorized individual or group uses the company name or image in bad faith. Additionally, trademarks ensure that consumers know they can expect a product with the same level of quality and authenticity that the trademark name guarantees.
Written by: David Sacasa Ⓒ 2021 Alcoba Law Group P.A.
Picture Credits: Miri Paez Bolet.
Reviewed by Juliet Alcoba and Ruben Alcoba on 10/21/2020