What is a trademark? Well, a trademark typically refers to a word, phrase, logo, symbol, or character (or combination thereof) that is used in connection with the advertising and sale of products and services, and that serve to indicate the source of those products and services. Some very famous trademarks include DISNEY, MCDONALD’S, COCA-COLA, MICROSOFT, and JUST DO IT. These trademarks are often used in association with different fonts or logos, which are also separate trademarks. For instance, MCDONALD’S is commonly seen with the “golden arches” logo, while JUST DO IT is often used next to the famous Nike “swoosh.”
Trademarks can also consist of color (the pink color of Owens Corning insulation), sound (the NBC chimes), product configuration, product packaging design, and even the overall “look and feel” of a restaurant or other establishment where services are provided.
Product manufacturers and service providers use trademarks to distinguish their goods and services from those offered by their competitors. You have likely seen thousands of trademarks in all types of advertising and marketing, displayed on product packaging, printed on labels and tags attached to products, and sometimes even stamped on products themselves. As consumers, we use these trademarks to identify and compare different products and services and to make our purchasing decisions. For instance, since the products sold under the COCA-COLA, PEPSI, and DR. PEPPER names all look identical, we would have no idea what we were buying unless there was a trademark printed on the bottle’s label.
Trademarks are also important because they embody the qualities and characteristics of the products and services with which they are used. For example, when you think of RUFFLES potato chips, adjectives such as “salty” and “greasy” come to mind. If you like salty and greasy chips, then you would probably buy a bag. If you prefer your chips less salty and greasy, you may opt for PRINGLES potato chips instead. Of course, trademark owners want to create as many positive associations between their trademarks and their products/services as possible so that more people will be inclined to purchase their products/services rather than those offered by competitors.
Finally, trademarks offer us an assurance of product quality and consistency. When you order a BIG MAC from McDonald’s, you expect it to look and taste the same every single time. If one day you order a BIG MAC and it looks or tastes different, you might question whether you are eating an actual BIG MAC, and you may choose not to order another BIG MAC in the future if it happened to give you a stomach ache.
In sum, trademarks are the most valuable assets a business will ever own. Businesses of all sizes spend a considerable amount of time and resources creating, developing, and implementing their trademarks with the goal of building substantial brand recognition and goodwill among consumers like you and me.