What does aspirin, cellophane, dry ice, escalator, flip phone, kerosene, lanolin, laundromat, thermos, trampoline and videotape have in common? All of these popular terms lost their registered trademark status and became generic terms due to misuse.
One of our important services we provide to clients is trademark management/usage for various projects including websites, email, literature, PR, trade show graphics and other promotional materials. It is a value-add to help them protect their trademarks through correct and consist usage. The guidelines below can be used by any company to protect and optimize their trademarks.
What is a Trademark?
Trademarks are some of your company’s most valuable assets. They represent your company and product brand names that are considered intellectual property in a court of law. When used correctly, trademarks become your exclusive property and are powerful branding elements to increase awareness, quality reputation and goodwill. In the marketplace, strong trademarks provide a competitive edge.
The key to understanding correct trademark use is to consider that the strength of a trademark is dependent upon its ability to identify the source of goods or services in the minds of consumers. In that sense, a mark is stronger when consumers more easily recognize a mark, more easily distinguish the mark from others, and more readily understand that the mark denotes origin, your company.
Types of Trademarks
A trademark is any word, name, symbol or device (or any combination) used by a business to identify the origin of its products or services and distinguish them in the market. Trademarks clarify who makes a product rather than what the product is.
The ® symbol identifies trademarks officially registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The trademark may also be registered with a comparable government agency in other countries.
The federal registration symbol ® may be used once the mark is actually registered BUT should only be used on or in connection with the goods and/or services covered by the description in the registration. This symbol can be also used in a country or countries where the goods/services are exported or rendered (and/or the promotional media is distributed).
The TM symbol identifies trademarks in which a company claims rights established through use without registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, often referred to as common law trademarks. This type of trademark is not generally recognized in other countries.
The SM symbol identifies trademarks in which the offering is a service, slogan or event rather than a product.
Use of the symbols “TM” or “SM” (for trademark and service mark, respectively) are used to indicate that rights are claimed in the mark and are often used before a federal registration is issued.
What Can Happen If Trademarks Are Not Used Correctly?
Worldwide, most countries have agreed to follow certain universal rules regarding trademarks. In the United States, a trademark gains validity primarily through use in commercial trade and may be lost through misuse or a period of non-use that lasts three years. If a trademark is used improperly, it can end up as the generic name of a product or service that anyone can use.
How to Protect Trademarks
Proper usage and consistency is the key to protecting your trademark rights. It is your responsibility to inform all third parties working on your behalf to follow the same guidelines. It may take a little more time and effort to protect trademarks, but your diligence may save a lot of expense and effort later.
Use trademarks as proper adjectives immediately followed by a noun. For example: XEROX® copier.
– Spell and capitalize consistently.
– Do not abbreviate or hyphenate at the end of a line.
– Never use trademarks as nouns, plurals, possessives or verbs.
– Correct: Use a XEROX brand copier. Incorrect: XEROX these copies.
– Correct: Please hand me a KLEENEX® tissue. Incorrect: A five-KLEENEX movie.
– Correct: Send the packages via FEDEX® courier. Incorrect: Send the FEDEXs.
– Correct: I had four STARBUCK® lattes. Incorrect: I drank four STARBUCKS.
– Correct: Put on your RAY-BAN® sunglass. Incorrect: Put on your RAY-BANS.
Are these important distinctions? Yes. Think of the following: elevator, kerosene., and corn flakes.
As a general rule, always use appropriate marking the first time the mark appears in a document or website page. This can either be in a headline or in the body copy of a paragraph. It is not necessary to repeat the mark again within the same document. (See the Guidelines For Specific Media below for further detail.)
Use of Multiple Trademarks
Often, a trademark owner may wish to use a broader, corporate trademark in tandem with a more specific product trademark. Particular care should be taken to separate and distinguish the two marks used in this context – they should not be used consecutively or in very near proximity. Use of trademarks in a tightly grouped manner can promote the conception that the product trademark is somehow descriptive of the goods or services rather than indicative of their origin, which in turn weakens the mark. In addition, this type of trademark misuse can suggest that other entities may be entitled to use the product trademark simply by replacing the corporate trademark with their own.
Correct: APPLE® computer company introduces a new iMAC® computer.
Incorrect: New APPLE® iMAC® introduced.
Trademark Ownership Notice
To show trademark ownership, use the notice statement below somewhere on the document, regardless of specific media (ads, web, etc.).
All trademarks with the ® symbol and unregistered trademarks ™ are the property of your company. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Guidelines For Specific Media
News Releases – It is not necessary to use trademark symbols in news releases since the Public Relations Council discourages use as symbols are generally deleted when stories are published by editors.
Magazine Content – Include the appropriate symbol the first time the trademark appears in each separate article. This ensures that trademarks are properly identified if an article is reprinted. Include the previous trademark notice at the end of the content.
Advertising – If the first mention of a trademark appears in the headline, the symbol may appear in a subhead or in the first sentence of body copy that includes the trademark.
Web Content – Include trademark symbols on the individual pages of web content. It is not necessary to include a trademark notice on individual web pages since trademark information is included under Legal Notices.
CDs, Training Materials or Video Content – Use symbols at the first mention on jackets, labels and text that appears on screen. Add the trademark notice in the same location with the copyright notice.
Internal and Employee Communications – It is not necessary to use symbols in informal, non-formatted materials such as emails or reports. Do use symbols and include a trademark footnote in more formal, formatted materials such as employee newsletters or brochures.
Products – Add symbols on faceplates and labels of new products or when revising faceplates of existing products. It is not necessary to include a trademark footnote.
Tradeshow Signage – Include symbols in all tradeshow signage. If placement in the headline is awkward, it is appropriate to place the symbol in the first mention in subsequent copy. If the term only appears in the headline, the symbol must be included.
Product Packaging – Include symbols on the first usage of a trademark on all sides of a package. Add the trademark notice in the same location with the copyright notice.
Roy Harry is the creative director for Media II, Inc. The company serves the marketing communications needs of B2B clients with strategic communications planning and development of tactics.
© Media II, Inc., All Rights Reserved. All shown trademarks are the property of their respective owners.