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Questions and Answers

from The Print Shopper, January 1997

What steps must be taken for a company name or logo to be protected? - SLL

This is a very complicated question. If you are making decisions for your company, contact a trademark attorney.

Certain combinations of words can be protected. One story passed along to us regarded the trademark application for THE GOOD NEWS. It seems that the title "Good News" was not, in itself, unique. In order to protect its name, the magazine had to use the word THE in the title.

Designs can also be protected. In those cases, it is not the words but the shapes or arrangement of colors which are covered. Some popular examples: McDonald's® golden arches, Kodak® film and Coke®'s red can with white swirl.

If the holder chooses not to use the ™ symbol, then a notice must appear somewhere on the page as text. The holder of a trademark is obligated to print some sort of protection identification, and – as in the case of Coke, a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola is also a registered trademark) – must take measures to ensure that other companies or the public do not make the word “generic.” That means, it must not become so common as to become a regular word.

Companies that do not protect their trademarked names can easily lose them. Once a trademarked name becomes a generic term, the company loses control of the trademark. Today, the Zipper Company no longer exists, but dozens of companies use the term to describe their “zipping” closures.

What about those “trademarks” which carry no protection at all? If you aren’t worried about protecting a design or a phrase, go ahead and use it (as long as no other firm is using it). This brings up the complicated question of first use, which brings us back to the attorney!


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