A type of intellectual property (www.practicallaw.com/5-382-3549), a trademark is a word, name, symbol, color, sound or other device (or any combination of them) used to indicate the source or origin of goods and distinguish the goods of one party from those of another. A service mark (www.practicallaw.com/5-501-8969) is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies the source of a service rather than a good. Trademark owners generally have the right to exclude others from using their trademarks for the same or similar goods or services.
In the US, trademark rights are acquired and maintained through commercial use of the mark on the relevant goods or in connection with the relevant services. Trademark rights are protected at the federal level by the Lanham Act (www.practicallaw.com/8-501-4903)(for trademarks used in or affecting interstate commerce) and at the state level by common law unfair competition principles and state trademark statutes. Trademarks eligible for federal protection may be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (www.practicallaw.com/9-383-7926). While registration of a trademark is not required, it provides additional rights and benefits beyond those available under common law. Unlike copyright (www.practicallaw.com/5-501-4872) or patent rights, trademark rights can be maintained indefinitely, provided that the trademark continues to be used in commerce.
For further information, see Practice Note, Intellectual Property: Overview: Trademarks (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-4565).