Trademarks are used to distinguish a business’ goods or services from those of another and to identify those goods or services as coming from that particular business. Since trademarks are used as symbols of a business’ goodwill and quality assurance regarding its goods or services, they can be a valuable property right. Trademarks are one form of “intellectual property,” and trademark law is used to protect a business’ trademark from improper use of that trademark, or a confusingly similar trademark, by another business. A registered trademark allows its owner to stop others from using a confusingly similar trademark, which could result in the loss of customers who purchase a product from one company believing that it comes from the other company. The important point to keep in mind, however, is that trademark law only protects the trademark itself and generally does not protect any other inherent aspect of the goods or services themselves. The protection of other aspects of a business’ goods or services is left to other areas of intellectual property law.
Patents are another form of intellectual property. Patents and patent law are used to protect inventions. “Utility” patents protect inventions that are useful, novel, and nonobvious in light of what has been done before and include articles of manufacture (e.g., products), machines, processes, compositions of matter, and improvements to each of those. Therefore, if business’ goods or services includes or incorporates an invention, additional intellectual property protection related to the goods or services may be obtained through a patent. In fact, businesses will often seek both trademark and patent protection for a given product or service.
To accomplish this, a trademark application and a patent application are separately filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If successful, as noted above, the resulting trademark registration will allow its owner to stop others from using a confusingly similar trademark, and the resulting patent will allow its owner to stop others from making, using, or selling the invention associated with the product or service. By having both a registered trademark and a granted patent, a business’ products or services can be protected in two distinct ways.