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Introduction to Trademarks

Trademarks are unique terms, symbols, or combinations of terms and symbols that communicate a specific message to the public. The term "COKE", for example, is a trademark that identifies a specific soft drink produced by The Coca-Cola Company. A service mark is a type of trademark that identifies the source of a service and distinguishes that service provider from all others. For example, the term "FedEx" is a service mark that identifies a specific provider of parcel delivery. A collective mark is a type of trademark that indicates membership in an organized collective group, such as a union, an association, or other organization. The term “Jaycees” is a collective mark that indicates membership in the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce. Over time, trademarks like those mentioned become associated with standards of quality or care and the public looks upon such marks as guarantees of repeated quality or care.

If a trademark owner does not properly protect its mark, it may be lost forever. Many of the words we use in our everyday speech were once valuable trademarks that could have been maintained as such if they had been promoted and protected properly. The words “escalator” and “aspirin” were once valuable trademarks, but for lack of vigilance, care, and public promotion, they lost their distinctive protectable qualities and are now words of ordinary use. Preservation of a trademark requires:

  • Use of the trademark only in its intended context;
  • Distinguishing the trademark from words of ordinary use by using capital letters and the registration symbol "®"; and
  • Enforcing an appropriate program governing proper use and display of the trademark.