What’s in a Name: a Primer on Trademarks, Service Marks, and Trade Names

Is seems obvious to state that a trade name is the name a business uses to promote its trade. But isn’t that what a trademark is? What about a company’s formal or official name—is that a trade name? Our Massachusetts Trademarks Lawyers have compiled the information on this page to provide an explanation of the distinctions among trademarks, service marks, and trade names.

The definitions are found in the Lanham Act, a part of the U.S. Code that contains the federal statutes governing trademark law.  The definitions are modified slightly for sake of simplicity.

  •  A Trademark is “any word, name, symbol, or device . . . used by a [company] . . . to identify and distinguish [its] goods . . . from those manufactured or sold by others . . . and to indicate the source of the goods . . .”
  •  A Service Mark is “any word, name, symbol, or device . . . used by a [company] . . . to identify and distinguish [its] services . . . from the services of others . . . and to indicate the source of the services . . .”
  •  A Trade Name: “‘Trade name’ and ‘commercial name’ mean any name used by a [company] to identify [its] business . . .”  A company’s trade name may be different from its legal name, i.e., the name it is incorporated or otherwise formed under and that it uses in business transactions.

Trademarks and service marks are the same, except for the obvious—trade marks pertain to goods, service marks to services.  The real distinction to be made is between a trade or service mark, on the one hand, and a trade name, on the other. The subtle distinction is that a trade name identifies a business; a trade or service mark identifies the goods or services of a business. Call our Massachusetts Trademarks Lawyer today to learn more!

Certain words or names can qualify as one, two, or all three of the above. For example, Apple, Inc. is the name of the company, therefore, its trade name (even without the “Inc.”). But “Apple” is also one of its trademarks when the name refers to its goods, e.g., an Apple computer.  Perhaps clearer is “iPhone.” This term clearly refers to goods—a smart phone, and thus is a trademark only. There is no company named “iPhone.”

Trademarks and service marks can be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Federal registration, although not required, gives the owner a number of advantages, including notice to others that the mark belongs to your business, a legal presumption that you own the mark, and the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with your goods or services.

Contact Ionson Law to retain the services of a Boston Trademarks Attorney who will assist you in developing and protecting your trade name, trademarks, and service marks.

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