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Protecting intellectual property: Trademarks

From brand names to slogans and logos, many businesses rely on certain marks to differentiate themselves from the competition. Should companies try to use the same or similar marks as other businesses, it may dilute the brand or worse, leave consumers confused or thinking the business puts out substandard products or services. 

Understanding how to protect this type of intellectual property may help people safeguard their brands and businesses’ reputations. 

What is a trademark? 

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a type of intellectual property protection, trademarks and service marks identify and set apart goods or services as coming from a specific source. For example, the golden arches unmistakably designate a fast-food establishment as McDonald’s. Applying for and obtaining a trademark for words, symbols, designs or phrases that identify or distinguish their products or services may allow businesses to keep others from using the same or similar marks without authorization. 

What is trademark infringement? 

According to the USPTO, trademark infringement occurs when another person, company or organization uses the same or similar marks in connection with goods or services in a way that may cause confusion or deceive consumers regarding the source of those products or services. For instance, creating a sunglasses brand called Oakey may qualify as infringement since consumers may easily confuse this new brand with the popular brand, Oakley. 

What happens if someone infringes on a trademark? 

Intellectual property owners who believe another has infringed upon their marks may choose to take legal action. Should they prove the trademark was used without authorization, the possible remedies include receiving an injunction requiring the defendant to stop using the mark in question, a court order requiring the defendant to destroy or turn over the infringing materials, or monetary compensation for certain associated losses.