What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. This is different from the protection offered by a copyright (which protects an original artistic or literary work) and a patent (which protects an invention).

Trademark rights come from actual use. Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set term of years and therefore, a trademark can last forever so long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services. Trademark registration can also last forever so long as you file specific documents and pay fees at regular intervals.

Registration is not mandatory as you can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce without a registration. However, federal registration of a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has several advantages, including: providing public notice of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, listing in the USPTO’s online databases, the ability to record the U.S. registration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods, the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court, the use of U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods and services set forth in the registration.

If a mark is registered with the USPTO, the ® symbol should be used after the mark. If not yet registered, the ™ symbol for goods or ℠ symbol for services may be used to denote a “common law” trademark or service mark.

No. Not every mark is registrable with the USPTO nor is every mark legally protectable. The USPTO examines every application for compliance with federal law and rules. Registration can be refused for several reasons, the most common being if there is a “likelihood of confusion” between the proposed mark of the applicant and a mark already registered or in use. Each application is decided on its own facts and there is no simple mechanical test to determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists. Rather this determination can be made only after doing a thorough and complex trademark search and a comparison of any existing marks with the propose​d mark. The USPTO will also refuse registration of a proposed mark for other reasons including, but not limited to, if the mark is: a surname, geographically descriptive of the origin of the goods/services, a foreign term that translates to a descriptive or generic term, an individual’s name or likeness, the title of a single book and/or movie, or matter that is used in a purely ornamental manner.

Education Code section 89005.5 provides that the name "California State University" and the names of all of the CSU campuses, nicknames, and abbreviations, belong to the State of California. Examples of the CSU name include Cal State, California State University Stanislaus, CSUS, San Diego State University, San Diego State, SFSU, Cal Poly, Sonoma State University, Sonoma State, the California State University Maritime Academy, Cal Maritime, CSU, and so on.

It is inappropriate to use the CSU name without the written permission of the institution for any purpose other than to describe a current or past affiliation with the institution or any of its campuses (e.g., employment or enrollment) or to otherwise describe the location of events. The CSU Office of General Counsel has the responsibility to protect the CSU name against misuse and infringement. For more information, please visit: Ownership of the CSU name


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