According to Wikipedia, a trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is “a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity, to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities”.
Trademarks can include words, names, letter combination, logos, slogans, colour combination, jingles, geographical origin.
A couple of examples:
- “McDonalds”; but also “I’m lovin’ it” as well as “Filet-O-Fish”
- “Haribo Goldbär”
- “Mercedes” (the car maker), but also ‘a three-point star in a circle’, the Mercedes icon.
Trademarks are typically registered for 10 years initially. Each country has its own registration office, but there are also international bodies that help register trademarks in multiple states. For instance oami.europa.eu in Europe, and www.wipo.int.
The questions to clarify when you register a trademark are in particular:
- which territory?
- which class of goods or services?
- with or without logo?
Note that the registration offices do not check whether you are conflicting or violating the rights of others – and have to do the search yourself (e.g. the database of the registration offices, as well as google) or take an IPR lawyer to do that for you. The additional benefit of taking a lawyer is that if you are sued for trademark violation, this is your layer’s problem – make sure that he has enough ensurance!