The Difference Between a Registered Trademark and an Unregistered Trademark

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A trademark shows the origin and ownership of a product or service (in which case it is called a service mark) by using a symbol, word or device. It is not a requirement to register a trademark. However, owners of registered trademarks have certain benefits, such as protection form unauthorized use of the trademark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office oversees the registration and use of trademarks.

Unregistered Trademark

An unregistered trademark only identifies a product, service, logo. It has what is referred to as common-law rights, but not necessarily any legal benefits. An unregistered trademark may have rights only in the state or region in which the trademark holder is located or the trademark serves. That means companies in different parts of the country can trademark the same product, but if neither registers the mark, neither has exclusivity over the product.

Registered Trademark

A registered trademark offers a person or company exclusive rights to use the product or service within its industry. Under law, owners of registered trademarks are protected from the infringement or unauthorized use of the trademark. In fact, if an item seems similar to the item that is a registered trademark, the owner can sue for trademark infringement. For example, a television maker may sue a t-shirt company for having the same name because the name is a registered trademark of the television maker.


A database of registered trademarks in the United States can be found through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If one wishes to register a trademark and has ensured one for his provost does not exist, he can file an application form. A trademark can’t be fast-tracked or put to the front of the line based on need. The trademark is reviewed and if any issues arise the applicant will be asked to revise it. Then the trademark will be published in a 30-day window to allow any opposition. If it is opposed, it will go to a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. If opposition is unsuccessful or there is none, the trademark will become registered.


The review period takes three to six months and depends on how many other trademark requests have been filed. It can take a little less than a year to 18 months from start to finish to register a trademark. A registered trademark has a life span of 20 years. The owner can refile a registration request to prolong the life of the trademark. If the trademark is not used, it can be deemed to be abandoned but can be re-registered by the owner.