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Things That Aren’t Trademarks

You are not using your company name or logo as a trademark every time you slap it on something. And you don’t need to register a trademark for every single thing that carries your logo. This is a very hard concept for many business owners to understand.

LEGAL DIRECTION® law firm provides legal services. But I also have lip balm with my logo on it to hand out to people at networking events (so you can protect your lips, too). Since I don’t manufacture or sell cosmetics, that LEGAL DIRECTION logo on the lip balm is not being used as a trademark. Neither are your pens, coffee mugs or other swag. These are promotional products used to market your business, but they are not your core product or service.

Remember, the trademark is the name, logo, color scheme, product packaging, jingle or whatever that tells your customers how to find your core products or services in the marketplace.

Almost always, your medical scrubs with the practice name and the T-shirts and hats you sell with your restaurant name are not registrable as trademarks. Is anyone buying the T-shirt because they like the quality of Robert A. Jones, DDS PLLC clothes? If you are selling clothing, make sure your brand name/logo is on the label, the hang tag, on the sleeve, on the left front, etc. Think of where you look for the alligator or the polo player.

Note the exception to this rule for famous brands, such as Hard Rock Café restaurants or Harley Davidson motorcycles. These companies sell a lot of merchandise to support their core brand, and they trademark registrations for every last T-shirt, key chain, pin and shot glass.

Cute slogans are often not used as trademarks. They are ornamental or amusing and usually are not associated closely enough with the product or service to designate to the consumer who made the product or service. “Where’s the Beef” for hamburgers or “Just Do It!” for athletic apparel are different than “Better in the Bull City” or “I’m with Stupid” T-shirts that you silk-screen in Durham. Your silk screen business should not seek to register all the funny sayings you print on shirts, but if you put your company’s name on the shirt labels or hang tags, that’s a registrable trademark.

Finally, a single book title is not registrable as a trademark, but a series of books can be - think “Chicken Soup” or “For Dummies” or “Harry Potter.” You can trademark goods and services that go along with the book title, such as websites, blogs, tours, courses, and all kinds of merchandise. Same with characters in a book.

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