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Registering trademarks and service marks in California

As we've discussed on our blog, any individual or corporate entity can -- and should -- take steps to legally safeguard their intellectual property, starting with registering their creations with such federal entities as the U.S. Copyright Office or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

While securing a patent or registering a trademark at the federal level can indeed go a long way toward ensuring that intellectual property is extended the necessary legal protection and, by extension, grant creators peace of mind, it's important to understand that this is not the only channel through which such legal protection can be derived.

For example, individuals and corporate entities here in the Golden State can register their trademarks or service marks with the California Secretary of State’s office.

As to the difference between a trademark and a service mark, California law defines them accordingly:

  • Trademarks: These include any words, symbols, names, devices, or any combination thereof used by the filer (manufacturer, merchant, etc.) to identify their goods, distinguish them from those created and sold by others, and indicate their source. By way of example, consider the Nike swoosh, McDonald's golden arches, or designer names like Gucci or Fendi.
  • Service marks: These include any words, symbols, names, devices, or any combination thereof used by the filer (manufacturer, merchant, etc.) to identify their services, distinguish them from those provided by others, and indicate their source. By way of example, consider Holiday Inn or Wendy's, as these two entities are providing services to customers (i.e., hospitality and food service).

It's important to understand that trade names, meaning any name used to identify a vocation or business, can't be filed at the state level. Rather, they are filed in the county in which the company's principal place of business is located.

We'll continue this discussion in the next post, examining more about the process of registering a trademark or service mark with the Secretary of State’s office.

If you have questions about trademark protection or any other aspect of intellectual property law, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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