A trademark is any symbol, logo or mark that a business or individual uses to identify itself or one of its products to the public. Trademarks are common for all types of goods and businesses, and they enjoy legal protection within countries that have trademark laws, as well as internationally.
One of the key reasons that a trademark is important involves brand recognition. Businesses need customers to be able to select their products from among a crowded field of competing products, especially once customers develop brand loyalty. Customers use trademarks, including logos, specific color schemes and stylized product names, to quickly identify the specific brand they want to purchase. Inconsistent trademarks, or those used by another business without authorization, lead to confusion and a lack of brand recognition.
Customers also can associate products with one another or with the business that produces them using trademarks. For example, when a company produces one successful product, it may wish to use the same trademark, or a similar trademark, to designate its next product. This allows customers to associate the new product with the old one, encouraging brand loyalty and making the new product seem more appealing by associating it with a product known to be superior. Company trademarks may appear across an entire line of products, associating them with one another and the parent company.
Businesses invest large amounts of money in their trademarks. This includes the money it costs to search existing trademarks to ensure that the new one is unique and not already in use. Businesses also must spend money hiring a designer and marketing professionals to produce one or more trademarks and work them into advertising and marketing efforts. Over time, businesses spend the most money advertising their trademarks, associating them with the products they represent and with the company's image.
The United States Trademark and Patent Office allows business to search records and register their unique trademarks, which affords legal protection against others using them without authorization. As with copyrights, trademark owners are responsible for protecting their intellectual property, including identifying and notifying unauthorized users. The fact that businesses must work to protect their own trademarks adds to their importance, since it means that a trademark represents an ongoing cost.