When it comes to building your brand, there is some confusion around what it takes to establish trademark rights. Clients ask, is filing a federal trademark application enough to protect me? What about posting on social media?
These are great questions often without clear answers.
To understand how to best protect your trademark rights, it is important to understand the purpose of trademark laws in the first place. Trademark law, codified under the Lanham Act, is fundamentally a consumer protection statute. It was created to protect consumers from companies that try to steal the goodwill of popular brands to sell their products or services (think of those guys selling purses in NYC with interchangeable brand names). Trademarks are used as a source identifier. They allow consumers to differentiate between certain types of goods and their sources.
When it comes to establishing your brand, trademark rights are fundamentally based on the first to use the mark. That means, filing an application alone generally isn’t sufficient to protect your rights to a mark against someone who may have used the name earlier than you. Establishing legitimate use is critical.
But, what is legitimate use, you ask? Great question.
Legitimate use of a trademark that amounts to commercial use that would cause the public to associate your mark with your goods or services. It could be social media posts, a website, products, or apparel. Legitimate use also varies based on what you are selling. If you are selling goods, generally, you need to show the use on the good in a way that shows your goods are in interstate commerce and can be purchased. For services, proper use amounts to advertising the services, among other types of use.
When it comes to establishing priority over another company regarding a possibly infringing mark, the party that can show the earliest legitimate use of the name along with the strongest engagement with the consuming public will most likely win a dispute. A federal trademark application is important to protect your rights and establish your rights federally against later users in other locations. But to protect your rights locally and early, make legitimate use as early as possible.
Key Takeaway: when it comes to establishing priority, make sure you are gettings your goods or services in commerce early and effectively.