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Trademark Concepts

Trademarks, sometimes known and used as brand names, are everywhere. A trademark is a word, slogan, color, symbol or design that identifies the source of goods or services and serves to distinguish the goods/services from similar offerings by others. Trademarks serve to identify the source of the goods, the quality of goods, and create goodwill and brand reputation for the owner of the mark. The word "mark" is used for trademarks or service marks, whether registered or not registered. Trademarks can be among the most valuable assets of a business.

The identities of HHS products and services are valuable assets and should be protected. Slogans, names, logos, and graphics--anything used to identify a product or a service may benefit from trademark protection.

Four Categories of Marks

  • Trademarks for goods;
  • Service marks for services;
  • Collective marks identify the provider as a member of a select group; and
  • Certification marks certify the goods or services of a provider have been certified.

Trademark Symbols

In the United States, the following symbols are used most often:

  •  for an unregistered trademark;
  • SM for an unregistered service mark; and
  • ® for a registered trademark or service mark.

Trademark Rules

The more distinctive a trademark is and the more well-known the mark becomes the greater the value of the mark is to the owner. As a general rule terms that merely describe the goods or service can not be registered as a trademark.

Legal rights in a trademark arise from use of the mark. Registration of a trademark is not mandatory. However, registration provides the highest level of legal protection. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the government agency that determines which marks can be registered in the United States.

When does a government agency need trademark protection?

Advantages to Federal Registration

  • Notice to the public of claim of ownership of the mark;
  • A legal presumption of ownership nationwide; and
  • The exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services described in the registration.

Once registration is granted, it can remain in effect as long as it is periodically renewed and as long as the mark is used properly.

You want to brand a product that will be distributed to the public.

Medicare Learning Network logo

Example: MEDICARE LEARNING NETWORK® is an educational program that provides educational materials such as pre-recorded video tapes, DVDs, downloadable webcasts and podcasts to the medical community. The MEDICARE LEARNING NETWORK educational program promotes consistency of official U.S. government information to Medicare providers.

You have a service that you want to promote to the public.


Example: THE HEART TRUTH & RED DRESS Design mark is used for a national public awareness and an education campaign focusing on educating women about the risks and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

You are interested in starting a certification program.


Example: NCI CCC A COMPREHENSIVE CANCER CENTER DESIGNATED BY THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE® is a cancer center having depth and breadth of research activities in laboratory, clinical, and population-based research, with substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas. NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers must also demonstrate professional and public education and dissemination of clinical and public health advances into the community they serve.

You want to establish a Collective Membership program.


Example: MEDICAL RESERVE CORPS® is a collective membership dedicated to establishing teams of local volunteer medical and public health professionals to contribute their skills and expertise throughout the year as well as during times of community need.

The Trademark Application Process

Briefly, here is the process we use for trademark registration.

  • The client (usually a program or project officer) completes a questionnaire.
  • We conduct a clearance search.
  • Our trademark attorney evaluates the search results and provides a report with recommendations whether or not to proceed with an application for trademark registration.
  • If registration is recommended, then we prepare the necessary documents for electronic filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

This initial phase is usually a 4-6 week work flow depending on our current workload.

Once the documents are filed with the USPTO, the extensive review can take from 12- 18 months for a mark that is already in use, it is longer if the mark is not in use. Ultimately, the USPTO has the final say about which marks can be registered.