Trademark basics

Guest post from MTIP senior advisor, Christie Bell, CLP

It’s common for entrepreneurs to be overwhelmed and intimidated by the complexities of intellectual property concerns. The term intellectual property, often referred to as “IP,” includes patents, trademarks, service marks, copyrights, trade secrets, and more. Today, we offer a brief breakdown of the general aspects of trademarks and service marks. Read more on this subject in MTIP’s recently updated Trademark Guide.Trademarks and service marks distinguish a company’s goods and services from others. The protection extends from brand names such as Nike®; stylized logos like the Boar’s Head® meat products logo, and to words in well-known catch phrases as in, “Hasta la Vista Baby®” from the movie The Terminator.

There are two types of enforceable trademarks that can be created bybusinesses or individuals; the TM symbol, “TM” or circle-r, “®.” Both are applied using a superscript font to the immediate right of the protectable brand words or images. When protecting a service offering, such as an electrician, the superscript “SM” can be applied.

When a company applies for and is awarded trademark or service mark rights from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they can use the circle-r (®) symbol. The circle-r affords a company of a registered brand official documentation that presumes national ownership of a trademark, national protection and a stronger case against infringement, and certain international assurances.

With the assistance of an IP attorney, USPTO registrations start at about $1,700. A private attorney can provide legal advice, respond to requests or a refusal from the USPTO, and help in conducting a thorough patent search reducing the risk of infringement. Contact the State Bar of Montana for a list of local IP legal counselors.

The Montana Innovation Partnership (MTIP) is based at Montana University TechLink Center. We are funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Adminstration with additional funding from the Montana Department of Commerce.

© Montana Innovation Partnership