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A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.
By Karen Kitchens, Wyoming State Library intellectual property/documents librarian
“What can you tell me about trademarks for my business?” Jen, Rawlins
At the center of every successful business are the trademarks the business uses to identify its products and services.
Trademarks not only distinguish the product or service from competitors, but also offer the consumer the promise of quality and consistency. For example, we know that the bottle of Coke we buy in Wyoming will taste the same as another in Texas.
You have the opportunity to create value through product identification when starting a new business or introducing a new product or service. Thoughtfully selecting a trademark is an essential part of achieving consumer recognition for a company’s goods and services.
Considerable care should be taken in choosing the strongest marks to achieve the widest possible market penetration as a small business owner.
A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, logo, graphic symbol or other device that is used to identify the source of a product or service -- and to distinguish it from competitors. Some examples are Chevrolet for trucks and cars, Apple for computers and UPS for delivery service.
A trademark is actually just one type of commercial mark -- the one that applies to a product rather than a service, although the term is commonly used to designate all kinds of commercial identifiers.
The three groups of commercial identifiers consist of the following: product identifiers, commonly known as brands and formally called trademarks; service identifiers, which include service marks, certification marks and membership marks (or association marks); and company identifiers, also called trade names, that typically consist of business names and logos.
In most countries, rights to trademarks are derived by registering the mark with some government agency. The law is different in the United States, where the rights to marks are derived through use of the mark. A person or business is required to register with any government agency in order to obtain rights to the mark.
The use of a mark without federal or state registration is called common law use. This means that you can establish rights on a mark based on use of that mark in commerce, without a registration. Registration does provide advantages, such as priority of protection and securing exclusivity.
Registering a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not required. However, it is recommended because registration confers several advantages on a trademark owner, mainly nationwide priority for use of the mark; the right to bring an action in federal court for infringement; the right to use the trademark registration symbol; and the right to block the importation of infringing goods into the U.S.
Each state allows registration of a trademark at the local level. Generally, business owners apply for state registration when marks are not eligible for federal registration (usually because the mark is used only in intrastate commerce rather than interstate commerce).
In Wyoming, state trademarks are filed with the Secretary of State. Applying for state registration is easy and inexpensive. The process is accomplished by completing an application form, which can be found on the Secretary of State website, and paying a modest fee.
The bucking horse and rider (BH&R) trademark is a symbol of Wyoming. The mark is owned by the state of Wyoming. As part of its obligations as a trademark owner, and to protect the rights in the BH&R mark, the state maintains a licensing program to authorize approved uses of the mark.
This licensing program is managed by the University of Wyoming’s Trademark Licensing Office.
For further information about federal or state trademark registration, call Kitchens at the Wyoming State Library at (307) 777-6333.
The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.