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Trademark Research   Tags: business, resourceguide, trademark, wcl  

Last Updated: Nov 2, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Trademark Basics Print Page

What is a trademark?

A trademark identifies and distinguishes the source of goods and services of one party from those of another.  A trademark usually consists of a word, phrase, design or a combination thereof, but may also consist of sounds, colors or shapes.  For example, the following familiar things all have trademark protection:  the Tarzan yell; the shade of brown used by UPS for its vans, uniforms and advertising; and the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle.

Because a company's trademarks are so closely associated with its image and reputation, they constitute an important and valuable type of intellectual property right.  Trademark protection confers the right to exclude others from using the mark or from using a mark so similar as to be confusing.

Unlike patents, trademarks can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in business.


Types of Trademarks

Registered Trademarks refer to trademarks that have been registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Only registered trademarks are permitted to use the ® symbol.

State Trademarks as the name suggests, are trademarks that have been registered by a state, not the USPTO.  These trademarks are only valid in the state where they are registered.  State trademarks use the TM symbol. 

FindLaw maintains a site with trademark information from all 50 states.

Common Law Trademarks are trademarks that have not been registered by the USPTO, nor have they been registered by any state.  It is not necessary to register a trademark.  You can establish legal rights simply by using the trademark in commerce.  Common law trademarks use the TM symbol.  State courts have jurisdiction for these trademarks.

Trade Secrets are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors.  The formula for Coca-Cola is the most famous trade secret.  Trade secrets are protected by state laws, not trademarks or copyrights.


Trademark Symbols

Three symbols are commonly used to indicate trademark protection:

  • TM ("Trademark") is used to indicate a claim of trademark rights for a product.  Registration of the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not required when using the TM symbol, but the mark must already be in use in commerce or there must be a good faith intention to do so.
  • SM ("Service Mark") is used to identify and distinguish the provider of a service from another service provider.  As with the TM symbol, registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not required, but the mark must be in use in commerce or there must be a good faith intention to do so.
  • ® indicates that the mark is "registered" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The term of protection is ten years, but it is renewable indefinitely as long as the mark is still in use in commerce.

Patent & Trademark Presentation


Patent & Trademark Resource Center

The Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) at Texas A&M University is located in the R.C. Barclay Reference and Retailing Resources Center on the first floor of the West Campus Business Library.  The Patent and Trademark Resource Center provides access to:

  • PubWEST- The public version of the database used by patent examiners, which features superior search functionality and contains:
    • All U.S. patents issued since 1790.  All patents exist in image format; patents issued since 1976 are also in HTML format
    • Patent applications published since March 2001
  • The Classification and Search Support Information System (CASSIS)
    • New content will cease effective December 31, 2011
    • Provides access to:
      • Images of all U.S. patents on disc through USAPat
      • Images of published patent applications on disc through USAApp
      • Images of registered and pending trademarks through USAMark
  • A complete set of U.S. Plant Patents on microfiche and in hard copy
  • Patent and trademark reference resources

While PTRC staff do not conduct patent searches, we can provide instruction on the search process to individuals, groups and classes.  Appointments are recommended.  To make an appointment or to learn more, please call (979) 845-2111.

For more information on Patents and Trademarks, please continue looking through this guide or the Patent Research Guide.

Program History and Mission

The Patent and Trademark Resource Center was established in 1871 to make printed patents available to the American public.  Today, the overwhelming majority of patent and trademark information is available electronically and the mission of making it easier to find is carried on by a network of 81 academic, public, state and special libraries across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico.  There are six PTRCs in Texas.  The Texas A&M University Libraries have participated in the PTRC Program since December 22, 1983.


Intellectual Property Disclaimer

Texas A&M University Libraries reference staff assistance with patent and trademark searches will extend no further than providing instruction in the use of various patent and trademark search tools available in the division.  Please note that the library staff is strictly prohibited from interpreting intellectual property law, offering legal advice or opinions, performing patentability and trademark searches for users, or providing advice on how to file a patent or trademark application.  Users shall not infer from any assistance provided by the reference staff any conclusion concerning the patentability of any invention or design or the validity of any trademark.  Furthermore, the reference staff is not permitted to provide opinions on the effectiveness of a searcher's efforts to identify a field of search, nor may they give advice or opinion pertaining to the specifics of the technology the searcher is examining.

All patent and trademark searches done in Texas A&M University Libraries are preliminary, not exhaustive.  Many other steps are required to perform an exhaustive search, such as the examination of foreign and international patent documents and the review of scientific literature.  In the case of trademark searches, exhaustive literature searches need to be done on both compact disc and online databases.  Again, as with patent searches, the types of searches done at Texas A&M University Libraries are preliminary, not exhaustive.  Users who wish further assistance will be directed to listings for registered patent attorneys and agents who have specialized knowledge and experience in predicting patentability and/or the ability of term and/or slogan to be trademarked.

Approved by the Texas A&M University System Legal Counsel for use by the College Station Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC), September 8, 1995, Updated November 27, 2002.

Business Librarian

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Jared Hoppenfeld
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West Campus Library
Texas A&M University
5001 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-5001
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