Last Published: 10/6/2020

What is a trademark?

A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of your goods or services. In short, a trademark is a brand. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace. The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.

A trademark can: 
•    Identify the origin of your goods or services. 
•    Establish the reputation of your goods or services. 
•    Assist in protecting your goods or services from counterfeiting and fraud. 

Registration of a trademark is not required in the United States, although there are benefits to obtaining a federal trademark registration through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). And, unlike patents, trademarks can be renewed as long as they are being used in commerce.

Trademark rights are territorial. Federally registering your trademark in the United States only creates rights throughout the United States and its territories. If you want to protect your trademark in another country, you must register your trademark in that country.

A common misconception is that having a registered trademark means you own a particular word or phrase. This is incorrect. You don’t have rights to the word in general, only to how that word is used with your specific goods or services.

For general trademark information, explore and download the Trademark Basics booklet. If you have questions, contact the Trademark Assistance Center. If you have questions regarding foreign trademarks, call 1(866) 999-HALT.