What Is Trademark?

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13262

"Can you hear me now?" "Taste the rainbow." "Gotta catch 'em all!" "The snack that smiles back" How many of these slogans do you recognize? Learn how trademark protects these and other company brands!



learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever heard of Lionel Messi?
  • What about Massi bikes?

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Lionel Messi is a popular Argentinian footballer (soccer player), and Massi is a popular cycling company based in Spain.

In August 2011, Messi filed a trademark application with the European Union Office for Intellectual Property to use his name as a brand. Immediately following, Massi challenged his application claiming its trademarked brand name was too similar and would cause confusion.

After seven years of battle, a high court in Luxembourg awarded trademark victory to Messi saying that his popularity through appearances in television "counteracts the visual and phonetic similarities to the Massi brand."

  • Why do you think this issue mattered to Massi?
  • Why is trademark so important?
  • What are the risks to brands not protected by trademark?

Let's find out!

  • Do you own a pair of Nike sneakers?

girl in Nike sneakers

Maybe you own a Nike sweatshirt or other workout gear. For many years, this company has dominated the sporting goods industry, and we recognize it by that white swoosh logo.

Not only does Nike's trademark logo distinguish its merchandise from other similar companies, but it also prevents others from using that logo to sell items not manufactured by Nike.

  • What is a trademark?
  • How is it different from a copyright or a patent?

Definitions of Terms

A trademark is something a company considers to be recognizable intellectual property.

For Nike, that includes its swoosh logo, the stylized letters in its name, and its slogan, "Just do it." When you see any of those, you immediately know it is a Nike product.

A trademark helps a company be easily recognized in the market. This is called branding, and all companies use this strategy to gain popularity.

For example, Nike's branding encourages you to participate in sports by wearing sneakers.

Converse, however, uses the slogan "Shoes are Boring. Wear Sneakers." This branding makes the wearer feel unique and interesting.

two Converse sneakers

Branding is a way for companies to set themselves apart and earn the trust of their customers.

Intellectual Property

  • What does intellectual property mean?

put, this refers to anything someone creates, from an invention to an idea to a screenplay to a dress.

To protect intellectual property, people apply for a trademark, patent, or copyright.

  • What is the difference?

Trademark, Patent, and Copyright

The differences among these are fairly clear and straightforward.

Let's look at an imaginary scenario to understand all three.

You have such a hard time waking up in the morning. You constantly turn off your alarm only to fall back to sleep.

To fix this problem, you invent a bed that shakes to wake you up. Nice work!

Now, you need to protect your invention and be officially recognized as its inventor, so you apply for a patent. A patent gives you the right to say who can and cannot make your invention.

Cool, but your bed still needs a name. You decide to call it EarlQuake. You design a fun bed-shaking logo and think up the slogan, "Shaken, Never Late." This is when you apply for a trademark to protect your branding.

Now, you need to sell this bed to every teen who hates alarm clocks! To promote it, you produce commercials and other media. Applying for a copyright protects all these media from being used or copied.

For a quick recap, watch the following video.

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Trademark and Registered Trademark: What's the Difference?

trademark icons

  • Have you seen any of these icons next to a logo or brand name?
  • What do they mean?

All three icons are used to signal trademark. The ™ and SM are used when a brand is not officially registered with the government.

™ is more common and protects prospective trademarks like those discussed in this lesson. SM is also a trademark but stands for service mark and protects things like legal or personal training services.

The ® means that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has approved the trademark application.

While registering a logo or symbol with USPTO is optional, it provides the highest protection of ownership rights and recourse should someone infringe upon those rights.

It is important to know, however, that using the ® without official USPTO registration violates federal law and would prevent the recovery of profits or damages in an infringement case.

Okay, so you want to check to make sure EarlQuake is an available product name in the United States before naming your invention that.

  • What can you do?

You can visit the official USPTO website and Search trademark database.

The objective of any brand in the market is to be distinctive. The more distinct it is, the stronger the mark. Trademark, therefore, is an essential part of business.

With hundreds of thousands of products worldwide, it would be tough to determine infringement without registered trademarks.

In the Got It? section, you will review some of the most important aspects of a trademark!

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