Trademarks are used to protect brand names, images, logos, and slogans associated with a brand or product. Service marks are similarly used to protect services. Trademark is the general term for both.
Trademarks protect the reputation of the company holding them, by indicating the source of the product or service. Trademarks are often in the news, as when a large corporation files a complaint against a small business that is using a name or slogan similar to theirs. Entrepreneurs must be aware of this risk. When counterfeit items such as fake designer purses are discovered, that is also trademark infringement.
Trademark registrations are frequently denied, based on "likelihood of confusion." This is the same basis on which complaints may be filed, so doing a trademark search before starting your business is proactive.
"Fanciful" and arbitrary marks are the easiest to protect, however, even these brand names can become diluted over time if not policed (Xerox, Kleenex).
Domain names are web addresses; they are not trademarks unless so registered, like Amazon.com
Registering your business name with a state or locality is not a trademark registration. States may offer trademark registration; it applies only within their borders. Federal trademark registration applies nationwide.
To register a trademark or service mark in the United States, the first step is to determine there are not conflicting marks already registered.
The US trademark classification system, and the international classification systems, are similarly arranged in hierarchies. But they are not identical systems.
Before searching in either system, find the code relevant to your mark.
TESS: Trademark Electronic Search System of the United States. New Users should use the Structured Search form. Enter the Code in one box and the brand name in the other. The default operator is OR which gets the broadest results. It can be changed to AND.
If you will be using your trademark internationally, it can be registered through the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Madrid International Trademark System from WIPO
As with US registration, the first step is searching for clearance.
Global Brand Database online from WIPO allows users to upload images and search for like images; search key words; and classification codes. CPC, Nice, and Vienna classification codes are supplied from an initial image search.