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Really? Can You Do That? How to Trademark a Word

written by: Amy Carson•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 10/11/2011

Owning the rights to a single word sounds improbably at first, but think of all the famous brand names that are one word long. Words are, in fact, commonly registered as trademarks. Can you trademark a word? Yes -- but only under certain conditions.

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    Protect Your Intellectual Assets


    A trademark is a word, symbol, device or combination that identifies products and services as unique from other similar products and services. In other words, a trademark is a distinguishing mark that one can readily associate to a person or business. One example of a symbol trademark is Nike's swoosh design. We all know that swoosh is identified with Nike. Trademarked words include companies such as Google Gmail™ or Macy's®. Product names are usually trademarked: think Coca-Cola® (its distinctive lettering is also trademarked) or Kleenex®.

    Kleenex is a special case, actually. It's a famous example of trademark dilution. Trademark dilution happens when a company doesn't protect its mark by enforcing proper usage and attribution (such as enforcing the usage of the trademark [™] or registered trademark [®] symbol) or when its trademark becomes a generic household name. Usually the problem is a combination of the two.

    You can trademark a word but the word needs to be associated with a product or a service. Also, make sure that the mark has not been registered yet. You can conduct a trademark search for free with the government's Trademark Electronic Search System database.

    A trademark is a brand name unique to a particular product or service. If a trademark is used in services rather than brands then it is referred to as service mark. A service mark is particularly noticeable in transportation companies such as planes or telecommunications companies.

    Trademarks are necessary to distinguish products from each other. Businesses, however, view trademarks as essential intangible assets. The reputation of the company hinges on how it preserves integrity behind its business name. Defending the good name of the company is an important consideration for most firms.

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    About Registering Your Word

    Registering your trademark is not required but is an excellent move to be able protect the company name or whatever the brand is known for. If one does not register their mark it's still possible to file infringement lawsuits against unauthorized use of trademark. However, an unregistered mark can only protect the business within certain geographical limits.

    Registering your mark state by state is not really necessary because federal registration trumps any or all state registrations. Therefore, it would be more practical to acquire a federal registration rather than a state registration. For instance, if you trademark your name in California and another company applies for federal registration for the same name, then you are prohibited from using the name outside California. A state registration might be cheaper than federal but it offers little or no protection in cases someone else uses the trademark.

    A federal registration is applicable all throughout United States. It can be used as a basis for an international trademark application or acquiring a trademark in other countries.

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    Steps in Acquiring Federal Trademark

    There are many benefits to federal trademark registration. The United States Patent and Trademark Office lists these perks as the following:

    • Public notice of your claim of ownership;
    • The mark is legally yours to use and you are authorized to use it nationwide;
    • You may go to court and sue to protect your mark if someone is infringing upon it;
    • You may use the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in other countries;
    • The ability to record the registration with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service to prevent importation of goods that may infringe on your mark (think of the infamous Levi's jeans knockoffs common;
    • The right to use the federal registration symbol ® and,
    • Listing in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online databases.

    Before you can register your mark, though, you must spend some time establishing ownership of it. This is actually a very simple process. In fact, some of these steps will be accomplished naturally as you go about your business.

    1. Start using the slogan, name or logo for business purposes. For instance, if you want to name a juice drink as “Thirst" then use the name in conducting business. Then file for trademark.
    2. File an intent to use to lock in the filing date of your application. An intent to use application reserves the name for a certain period.
    3. The name or mark can be reserved for six months and is renewable every six months thereafter up to a maximum period of 24 months.
    4. Pay the intent to use application costs. The fee is often equivalent to a regular trademark application.

    Trademark application forms can be accessed online through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).