First, what is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, symbol, device, or any combination used to identify and distinguish someone’s goods or services from others. Simply using a brand name to sell a product makes it a trademark, but most companies register trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This provides exclusive rights to use that mark, publicizes who the owner is, and allows the owner to take legal action in federal court over a dispute concerning the mark. Only registered trademarks can use the ® symbol. Registration expires after ten years and can be renewed for additional ten-year periods. Unregistered trademarks come with “common law” rights—generally whoever uses the mark first has the right to use it in that way—but they are not governed by statute and only cover the geographical area in which the mark is used. These are followed by a TM. If you thought that was confusing, you’ll want to read the 20 most confusing grammar rules in the English language.
What if you forget that ® symbol?
Trademarks serve a commercial purpose: to prevent unfair competition by confusing or deceiving customers. If someone registers a trademark for a cupcake store, no one else can use that trademark or a similar one for a different cupcake store or bakery. The mark could potentially be used for a different product—a type of cell phone, for instance—as long as it does not damage the reputation of the original trademark holder. So what if you use a trademark in your blog or even a casual conversation? Nothing! Anyone can use trademarked words for informational or editorial purposes (including this article) or when comparing them to other products without acknowledging the symbol. However, it is a good idea to capitalize or italicize those words in writing. Make sure you stop saying these 12 words with surprisingly offensive origins.
Trademark registered: August 2, 1983
Owner: Sealed Air Corporation
Generic term: inflated cushioning; packing material