Trademark Law Explained
A trademark is a word symbol or design that distinguishes one companies products from those of another. In theory you can receive a trademark by using the symbol in the normal course of business however it is usually wise to register your trademark. This will help to make sure that your get the full legal protection of the trademark since it will be much easier to prove that you own the trademark if it is registered than it would be if are claiming one from usage.

In order to register a trademark you would fill out an application at the United States Patent and Trademark office. You can get a trademark on a symbol that you are actually using or on one that you intend to use. However if you file an application for a symbol that you intend to use the trademark will not become official until you actually use it. That means that you can't stop somebody using the symbol until after you have used it in interstate commerce. An application based on the intention to use the symbol can be used to establish that you intended to use it before the other party and as soon as you actually use the symbol it would become an enforceable trademark. This is a vital basic idea in trademark law, and it changes the rules of the game quite clearly, forcing companies to register trademarks carefully.

There are limits to the restrictions that a trademark puts on the usage of a symbol, or word and these are usually based on fair use. The first fair use of a trademark is nominative and this occurs when the trademark is being used to refer to the actual product that is trademarked. Trademarks may also be used in parodies. In general as long as there is no confusion over the source of the product a trademark can be used.

Unlike patents and copyrights there is no expiration date on a trademark, as long as the symbol or word is continuing to be used the trademark will remain in force. Another difference between trademark and copyright law is that there is no criminal law against trademark infringement. All trademark related cases are settled in civil courts

There is no guarantee that just because you register a trademark that you will have the right to use or to exclude others from using it. Since trademarks can come into effect through usage it is entirely possible that somebody else was using the trademark before you. Unlike patents in which you can check what has and what hasn't been patented you can't do the same with trademarks. You can check what has been registered but you can't know if something has been trademarked through usage. In all likelihood the first time that you will find out that you are infringing on a trademark is when you receive a cease and desist letter from somebodies lawyer. In this case the trademark will be long to whoever was using it first, this can be tricky to prove which is why registration is a good idea.