A trademark is a word, phrase, or logo that identifies the source of goods or services. Trademark law protects a business’ commercial identity or brand by discouraging other businesses from adopting a name or logo that is “confusingly similar” to an existing trademark. The goal is to allow consumers to easily identify the producers of goods and services and avoid confusion.

United States trademark law is mainly governed by the Lanham Act. “Common law” trademark rights are acquired automatically when a business uses a name or logo in commerce, and are enforceable in state courts. Marks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are given a higher degree of protection in federal courts than unregistered marks—both registered and unregistered trademarks are granted some degree of federal protection under the Lanham Act 43(a).

U.S. Trademark rights come in two types: common law and federal registration.

™ – Signifies common law trademark rights. Businesses automatically receive common law trademark rights by using a brand name or logo in the normal course of commerce.

® – Signifies a registered trademark. The ® symbol may only be used on a trademark that has been examined, approved and registered with the USPTO.

A word, phrase, or logo can act as a trademark. But so can a slogan, a name, a scent, the shape of a product’s container, and a series of musical notes.