A trademark is a unique word, phrase, slogan, logo, or design that identifies a good or service as belonging to a particular company. Trademarks offer companies a way to ensure that they have brand recognition so that consumers know exactly whose product they are purchasing. Trademarks, along with copyrights, patents, and trade secrets, are types of intellectual property that protect valuable business assets against misappropriation. Experienced Los Angeles trademark attorneys know that in order to get strong trademark protection, you may want to apply for a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). But even having an official trademark won’t necessarily stop your competitors from attempting to cause brand confusion by stealing your company name, product design, logo, or anything else that might distinguish your good or product from other goods and products on the market. That’s why it is often necessary for an IP litigation attorney to get involved.
The California trademark lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP represent businesses and individuals in intellectual property disputes, with a particular focus on trademark issues. Contact us today to discuss your case.
Trademark Protection: Creating Trademark Rights Through Actual Use of Your Intellectual Property
Having a trademark grants you the exclusive right to use or license a particular phrase, slogan, or design for your product, while a service mark offers identical protection for a service, and trade dress protects the unique visual appearance of a product and its packaging. An example of a well-known trademark is the brand name for Coca-Cola, and an example of a service mark would be the Golden Arches that appear in the logo for McDonald’s. Trademarks differ from copyrights in several important ways, but the main difference is that copyrights protect creative works generally against unauthorized use, while trademarks prohibit others from copying certain aspects of a product or service.
The idea behind trademark rights is that a company with a legally registered trademark should not have to worry about a dishonest competitor coming along and stealing their hard work – as well as any brand goodwill established over time – simply by using a similar visual element on their packaging or marketing materials to confuse customers. Trademark law recognizes the importance of a brand’s name or logo being associated with a high-quality product or service. After all, when a customer purchases a certain item in the commercial marketplace, they have every expectation that what they are buying is actually “the real deal” and not some knockoff product.
The Lanham Act created a national trademark registration system that protects the owner of a registered trademark against infringement. Actual use of the trademark, however, is what creates trademark rights, not registration of the trademark. Although you are not technically required to file for a trademark in order to protect your intellectual property rights, there are several advantages to having a registered trademark. For example, the absence of a trademark can make it more difficult for you to establish and then build your brand, which is why many successful businesses file trademark applications. Additionally, you cannot avail yourself of the legal system to file a trademark lawsuit in federal court unless you have a trademark on file with the USPTO.
International Trademark Rights
Trademark rights can be both domestic and international, which means that they can potentially be enforced in the U.S., Canada, and anywhere else in the world. This would protect a trademark owner in California, for example, against a competitor who rips off their design and then sells a similar product in China.
The process for filing for an international trademark is slightly different from the process for filing for a domestic trademark, so you should speak to a qualified intellectual property attorney who has experience handling these kinds of international trademark applications with both the USPTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Protecting Your Company: Trademark Registration with the USPTO
Common law trademark rights mean that you technically have a trademark the moment you create and use a particular visual aspect of your brand. But many companies still choose to get more formal protection through federal trademark registration. If you want to do this, you will need to file a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When filing your application, it is important that you or an attorney first perform a trademark clearance search to make sure that you do not infringe on another company’s existing trademark by selecting a name or design that is too similar to one already in use. If your name or design cannot be easily distinguished from another with a trademark, the USPTO will reject your application for being a deceptive trademark. In the worst cases, you could later find yourself on the receiving end of a trademark demand letter alleging infringement.
The process for getting a trademark registered may take roughly eight (8) months. Once your trademark has been officially registered with the USPTO, you can then use the trademark symbol ® on your product packaging, promotional materials, and website to discourage competitors from trying to infringe on your trademark. Additionally, your trademark will be entered into a database that keeps track of all trademarks which can be enforced in the United States and in foreign countries. This means that your competitors will have legal notice of your trademark rights. Perhaps most importantly, you will also be eligible to pursue damages in U.S. district court by filing a Lanham Act claim if someone infringes on your trademark.
The USPTO trademark database will provide strong evidence in the event that a competitor infringes on your trademark because the database shows when the trademark was registered, exactly how it was designed, and what types of products or services it applies to. Moreover, this creates a presumption that you are the lawful owner of the trademark if and when a trademark dispute goes to trial.
Sometimes, a company uses a symbol or design without even bothering to review the trademark database; other times, a company might perform an incomplete trademark review or trademark investigation that doesn’t look for a similar mark being used in a state other than the one in which they do business. Since trademarks apply across all 50 states, failure to perform an adequate clearance search is unacceptable and can result in trademark infringement. Although your competitor might not have intentionally infringed on your trademark, the fact remains that they failed to thoroughly search the database to make sure that there was not already an existing trademark. This could expose them to liability in federal court.
Protecting & Enforcing Your Intellectual Property Through Trademark Litigation in California
One limitation on a trademark is that you need to be vigilant and enforce it when a competitor attempts to steal your company’s name or identity. The good news is that a registered trademark gives you the right to take legal action when someone infringes and dilutes your trademark by passing off their product as yours in order to cause confusion among consumers.
Of course, protecting your trademark against infringement by taking legal action will first require you to discover that a competitor is intentionally trying to mislead customers about the source of their product. This can be done by using a trademark watch service that will alert you when someone files for a trademark that is similar to yours. When you discover the infringement, it is important to act quickly because, if left unchecked, the brand confusion caused by a competitor’s use of a similar design can lead to trademark dilution.
Southern California IP Lawyers Who Will Help You Win Your Trademark Infringement Case
If you believe that your trademark has been infringed by a competitor, your first move should be to speak with a knowledgeable trademark lawyer who is able to explain all the options available for trademark enforcement and brand protection. An IP lawyer can closely examine your trademark filing with the USPTO and determine whether the other party has violated it.
Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible that sending a trademark demand letter to the other party will suffice, especially when the infringement was unintentional. This will enable you to stop them from continuing to violate your trademark without necessitating a lawsuit. Or it may be necessary for more formal legal action with trademark litigation in federal court. Winning the case could require convincing a judge or jury that the competing trademark is likely to confuse consumers due to similar goods or services being sold, similar phrasing or design on the product packaging or advertising materials, and similar product marketing approaches.
The skilled trademark attorneys at Tauler Smith LLP have a track record of success in California trademark litigation, and they can assist you with your intellectual property dispute and ensure that your legal rights are protected every step of the way. Our legal team has successfully represented clients in IP matters involving trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. We are prepared to help you get an injunction to stop the other party from continuing to infringe on your trademark, in addition to securing you financial compensation for any damages you’ve already suffered.
Contact the Los Angeles Trademark Lawyers of Tauler Smith LLP
The main office for Tauler Smith LLP is located in Downtown Los Angeles, and we serve businesses and individuals throughout LA County, including Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Our attorneys can provide strong legal advocacy and help safeguard your trademark, copyright, or other type of intellectual property, whether your case involves clothing and trademark issues, cannabis trademark issues, anti-cybersquatting, or any other trademark dispute. We can also defend you against an IP claim if you have been accused of infringing on someone’s trademark.
Contact us now by calling 310-590-3927 or fill out the contact form below to schedule a confidential consultation.