Revisiting “The Legal Rights of an Unregistered Trademark”

Revisiting “The Legal Rights of an Unregistered Trademark”

September 14, 2021
Walker Weitzel

Did you know trademark law extends beyond registered trademarks? Learn more about the legal rights for unregistered trademarks below.


It’s common for small businesses to operate without formally registering their business name, logo, or trade dress with the USPTO. For many of those unregistered companies though, it can be a question as to whether they have any legal rights regarding that company name even if an official trademark hasn’t been filed.

In short, yes, a trademark does not need to be registered to exist. If you have put your business name or logo on a product so that people know the product comes from you, then this is probably enough to establish yourself as having rights in connection with it. It also means they are not allowed to use something similar without infringing upon those exclusive rights and risking legal action. While legal questions other than those regarding the validity of a trademark may need to be considered when determining its authenticity, the existence of a valid trademark does not depend on whether it has been registered or not.

So why register? Although a trademark can spring into existence without registration, the enforceable rights of that trademark are limited. Without registration, it has geographical limits and is only valid in areas where they have been actually used. Contrast that with USPTO Registration, which grants exclusive right to the mark anywhere in United States territory regardless of whether or not it’s already being used there. Another major difference between a registered mark and an unregistered mark are the legal remedies available if someone infringes on your mark and attempts to use it as their own. It is much easier to stop an infringer from continuing to use your mark and pursue monetary damages if the mark has been registered. Registered marks can also be used for seizures, protective injunctions, and other forms of relief against infringing goods or services in US Customs Court proceedings.

Do you have to register your mark? No. However, if a business is growing it’s often worth the time and investment in order to claim as many legal rights as possible by registering their trademark with the USPTO national registry. This prevents others from claiming the same mark and preventing your business growth. More importantly, it ensures that you can claim certain exclusive online rights including how the mark comes up in search results.

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