Trademark law is one area of intellectual property law that involves huge numbers of people and companies. Not every Manhattan business person has a patent or a copyright, but many do have a trademark that represents their business in the eye of the public and that they wish to defend vigorously. Our readers should familiarize themselves with an introduction to trademark law.
A trademark is used in commerce to distinguish the goods of one company from those of another. A trademark can include a name, symbol, word or device or a combination of these. A similar concept exists for service providers, except that the name, symbol, word or device is called a service mark. Brand names and symbols associated with brands can be trademarks or service marks.
The rights to a trademark begin with actual use of the mark. The first to use a certain trademark in business establishes a right to use that mark and the right eventually to register that mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The user of an unregistered trademark or service mark may have the right to mark it with the "TM" or "SM" symbol, respectively.
Although the mere proper use of a trademark conveys intellectual property rights in the mark, there are still advantages to registering the trademark with the PTO. Not only does registration provide evidence of ownership in the trademark, it effectively puts everyone on notice that the trademark is in use and associated with a particular business. It can help with protecting the brand both at the border from smugglers of counterfeit goods, and overseas with the trademark offices of other countries.
What happens when a New York business person discovers that another party is using their valid trademark and causing confusion? Our legal system protects business people from this kind of unfair competition through intellectual property litigation.