Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Below is the “GE basic floodlight 45.” I direct your attention to little “TM” next to the word “basic.” The “TM” is an attempt to assert a trademark on the word “basic.”

From Wikipedia’s Trademark page:

A trademark or trade mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities.

Even within the context of floodlights as a product category, it’s unclear how the word “basic” provides any uniqueness or distinction. So how can that “TM” be there?

“TM” indicates an unregistered trademark, which is just a unilateral assertion of trademark. For example, whoever at GE decided that “basic” was worthy of a “TM” did not need to ask a government agency for permission. With an unregistered trademark, the classic Nike slogan applies: you can “just do it.”

But wait, that Nike slogan is a registered trademark, denoted by an R inside a circle. In the United States, it means the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found the mark to meet the USPTO’s criteria for distinctiveness and such. With this government endorsement, a registered trademark provides a far firmer legal basis for defending a mark.

So the next time you see a dubious “TM,” remember that “TM” is more bark than bite.

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