Open/Close Menu San Diego based patent and trademark law firm founded in 1984 with over 1,700 patents issued and more than 1,200 trademarks registered worldwide.

It is important to thoroughly understand how marks are to be used.

A trademark is a word (or several words), a name, a symbol (such as one or more letters, or numbers, or a design), or any combination of these, used to identify and distinguish the goods of a business, and to indicate the source of the goods. Some well-known trademarks are KODAK, LYSOL, and TEFLON. A service mark provides the same function for services.

A generic name is the common descriptive name of a product or service it identifies. For example, “instant lather shaving cream” is the generic name that goes with RISE and “depilatory cream” is the generic name that goes with NAIR.

A service mark must not be confused with a trade name, which identifies a company. MCDONALD’S is a service mark of the McDonald’s Corp. “McDonald’s Corp.” is the trade name.

Trademarks and service marks must be protected and cared for or they will be lost. Many marks which were once the proud possessions of corporate families have been lost because they were misused. Some famous former trademarks are: aspirin, escalator, kerosene, shredded wheat, cellophane, and mimeograph. A trademark is lost when it becomes generic, that is, when it has come to mean the product or service as distinguished from a certain brand of the product or service.

If your mark becomes generic, it could be used by anyone and would no longer indicate to the public that the products for which it is used are provided by you.

Trademark Laws are among the most important assets of any business and should be treated with the care due something so valuable.

It is relatively easy to protect and care for trademarks. It is necessary to follow the simple rules listed here. These rules should be followed on all business documents, advertising literature, displays, packaging, labels, and correspondence.

How to Care for Trademarks and Service Marks

1. Trademarks are status seekers and ask that they be followed by a notice of their status.

2. Service marks are loners and are merely a subset of trademarks. They must be distinguished in print from other words and must appear in a distinctive manner.

A trademark or a service mark should always be used in a manner which will distinguish it from the surrounding text. Capitalize marks completely, or use initial caps with quotes, or as a minimum use initial caps. The generic product name should not be capitalized. If the material is being prepared by a printer, other suitable alternatives for distinguishing the marks are to place it in italics, bolder-faced type or a different color.

Whenever possible a notice should follow the mark. As a minimum requirement, it should be used at least once in each piece of printed matter and preferably the first time the mark appears. If a trademark or service mark has been registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the registration notice ® or “*Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.” should be used. The ® or Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. should never be used if the mark has not been registered for the product or service concerned. In such a case, the letters “SM” or “TM” should follow the mark or an asterisk can be used to refer to a footnote stating, “*A service mark (or trademark) of  Jane Smith” (or “Smith Corporation” if you establish a business by that name and assign the mark to it) .

3. Trademarks like good company and should be accompanied by the generic name for the product they identify.

A trademark is a proper adjective and should, whenever possible in text, be followed by the common descriptive name (noun) of the product. This should be done each time the trademark appears in a piece of printed material. On the products and on labels the trademark stands alone.


Trademark             Generic Name
KODAK®                    Cameras
JEEP®                         Vehicles
VASELINE®               Petroleum jelly
LEVI’S®                       Jeans and sportswear

The word brand is sometimes used to reduce the possibility that the trademark will be thought of as the generic name for the product, or a line of products. When used, it should always appear in small print.


BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages
SCOTCH® brand transparent tape
PYREX® brand heat-resistant glassware

4. Trademarks are not clinging vines. They are never possessive.

Never use a trademark in the possessive form.


The good taste of FRENCHETTE® low calorie salad dressings.
The fine quality of CURITY® diapers.

FRENCHETTE’S good taste.
CURITY’S fine quality.

5. Trademarks are singular.

Since a trademark is not a noun, it should never be used in the plural form.

Please note, however, that some trademarks actually end with “s” such as KEDS®, COETS®, Q-Tips®.


Take some pictures with KODACOLOR® film.
The doctor prescribed MILTOWN® tranquilizer tablets.
Use HANDIWIPES® disposable towels.

The doctor prescribed MILTOWNS.
Please give me a HANDIWIPE (there is no such thing as a “handiwipe”);

6. Trademarks are never common. They are always proper.

Trademarks are proper adjectives and should never be used as common descriptive adjectives.

Thus, never use a trademark for a raw material to describe finished products made from it.


This flotation equipment made of STYROFOAM® plastic foam can be readily installed.

This STYROFOAM® flotation equipment can be readily installed.

Since a trademark is a proper adjective and not a verb, it should never be used as a verb.


Make six copies on the XEROX® copier.
Make a photocopy.
Polish your car with SIMONIZ® paste wax.

XEROX® the report.
SIMONIZ® your car.

7. Trademarks are proud of the organizations that own them.

If it is not readily apparent who owns the mark, for example, where the business letterhead is not being used, a notice of ownership should be given. This can be accomplished by placing an asterisk after the mark, which refers to a footnote stating that the trademark is the brand name for a product which is provided by our organization.


* JELL-O is a registered trademark for dessert products, now owned by Kraft Foods.

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