Before getting into the details of trademark registration, it’s important to understand the government’s perspective on trademark law and how that affects your trademark application moving forward. Individuals or businesses want (and should) register their trademark to protect their intellectual property. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) views the primary purpose of trademark law as preventing customer confusion among product or service offerings. By learning about trademarks in this framework, it will be a lot easier to understand why the USPTO is set up the way it is, as well as why it makes the decisions it makes as to whether to accept or deny an application.
Let’s say you operate a restaurant in Florida called “The White Knife of Florida” and were able to successfully register the trademark. If a competitor attempted to register a trademark such as “White Knife” for restaurant services in Florida or anywhere in the United States, the government would deny their application on the basis of a “Likelihood of Confusion”. Notice the government doesn’t label the basis “Infringement on Intellectual Property” or “Taking Someone’s Trademark”; the main concern from the government’s perspective is to whether a customer may be misled or deceived into thinking that the “White Knife” was affiliated with your restaurant.
Granted, the government viewing the importance of trademark law in this manner is still highly beneficial to you as the trademark owner. If a potential patron was looking over Yelp reviews in Florida and your competitor gave lousy service or had terrible food, there’s a high probability they’d be confused and never come to try the fare you offered. So it’s obviously good the government would reject their trademark application. The real difference made by viewing trademark law from the government’s perspective is in how much protection your particular mark receives, which we discuss in the section about the principal and supplemental register.
Registering a trademark doesn’t give you complete blanket rights to that name. For instance, “Delta” is a trademark owned by both an Airline and a sink manufacturer (plus a few other businesses). If the government doesn’t believe a customer will be confused, or wrongly associate a product and/or service with you or your company, they may allow the registration to mature. That being said, the USPTO allows for a 30 day period after it posts a “Notice of Publication” where anyone can challenge a trademark application.
So with our frame properly set—that the USPTO is primarily concerned about customer confusion—we’re ready to get starting in talking about the search and application process.