In the United States and most countries with a legal tradition derived from the United Kingdom, a business automatically generates “common law” trademarks in a mark by using it as a commercial identifier. Common-law rights are limited to the geographic area where the mark is known, and so may be fairly limited, especially for new businesses.
Two types of trademark registrations are available in the US: state and federal trademark registrations.
State trademark registrations. State trademark registrations typically provide a series of procedural benefits in an in-state trademark dispute, but have no impact in any other state. They tend to be inexpensive to file and renew, often $50 or less per class. State trademark filings generally receive minimal review by a state agency, generally the Secretary of State’s office. State trademark registrations may be especially useful for local businesses that do not rely on substantial out-of-state customers, and for certain types of regulated businesses that are permitted only in certain states.
Federal trademark registrations. If a mark is used in interstate commerce (between two states or between any state and an international market), it may be eligible for federal trademark registration. An application for federal trademark registration is more expensive than a state application, with fees starting at $225 per class, and each application receives an extensive review from an Examining Attorney at the United States Patent & Trademark Office. If the mark is registered, the registrant gains rights (with some caveats) to use or expand its use of the mark across the United States, and to prevent later comers from adopting confusingly similar marks.
International trademark protection. In many, registrations is a prerequisite for obtaining trademark rights. If you are doing business or plan to do a significant volume business in another country, or if you are seeing infringement by third parties in that country, registering your mark can be a valuable defensive step. Filing an initial application in the US will allow the applicant to file almost anywhere in the world within six months, and get the benefit of the applicant’s US filing date.