Filing a Federal Trademark Application FAQ

How does a trademark qualify for federal registration?

To register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the trademark's owner first must use it in "interstate commerce." This means the mark must be used on a product or service that crosses state, national, or territorial lines, or that affects commerce crossing such lines -- for example, an Internet business or a restaurant or motel that caters to interstate or international customers.

The trademark owner must also be able to answer "no" to all of the following questions:

  • Is the trademark the same as or similar to an existing mark used on similar or related goods or services?
  • Is the trademark on the list of prohibited or reserved names?
  • Is the trademark generic -- that is, does the mark describe the product itself rather than its source?
  • Is the trademark too descriptive (not distinctive enough) to qualify for protection?

For information on distinctiveness vs. descriptiveness, see Nolo's Qualifying for Trademark Protection FAQ.

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