Trademarks are distinctive words, phrases, logos or designs that indicate the source of goods or services. In the United States, trademark rights are based upon use, and the first user of the mark generally has superior rights.

The TM, SM and ® symbols provide notice to others that the user of the mark is claiming trademark rights. Although an owner can still accrue trademark rights without the use of designated symbols, their use provides greater recognition of the owner’s trademark rights, may minimize other’s use of similar terms, and assists the owner in obtaining damages in actions for unauthorized use of the mark.

The ® symbol is only appropriate for a registered U.S. trademark and only for the specific goods or services covered by the registration. U.S. trademark law also provides protection based on intent to use and grants the applicant priority based upon the date of filing of an “intent-to-use” application, rather than the date of actual use of the mark. An owner can also obtain common law trademark rights for marks that are not registered based on the owner’s use of the mark.

When deciding whether to register a trademark or rely upon common law rights, factors to consider include how long the owner expects to use the mark, the extent of use of the mark, and the resources available to support the costs of application and registration. Federal trademark law provides greater benefits for registered marks than state trademark law, including nationwide notice of registration through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office trademark database, a nationwide presumption of ownership, and access to federal courts for actions against unauthorized users of the mark.

Because there are significant upfront and continuing costs associated with preparing a trademark application and maintaining a mark’s registration, the appropriate Campus or University level officer must approve the decision to register a trademark on behalf of the University, whether at the federal or state level. The Office of University Counsel provides guidance to Campus or University officers regarding such decisions, as well as advice regarding the application process, any renewals of registrations, and any contemplated enforcement actions.

The University has a number of registered and common law trademarks. For the University policy on trademarks, please see “The General Rules Concerning University Organization and Procedure,” Article III, Section 6.