A trademark is a protected brand, mark, sign, logo, emblem or name that is used to distinguish your goods or services from other similar products or services.
Good examples of brands or names are ‘Kodak’, ‘Adidas’, ‘Coca Cola’. Examples of logos protected by way of trademark registrations are the Nike ‘swish’, the ‘shell’ motif owned by the Royal Dutch Shell company, the lowercase ‘f’ symbol of Facebook... you get the idea. It’s a visual sign of distinction, but can also be in the form of a unique sound (think of the Apple sound when starting up), scent (uhm, not so useful these, but weirdly used by an Asian tire manufacturer to make strawberry-scented tires), or colors (think of Tiffany green, or the red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes, recently successfully defended in court against Yves Saint Laurent).
Trademarks are not the same as company names.
Your company may trade under a certain name – which may also be registered as a trademark - but you could eventually sell numerous products, each with their own name, logo or get-up which could be registered as trademarks in and of themselves. You can get a trademark not only for your product lines, but also for the name of your business. While many business owners think that they have secured the rights to their name when they register a business, this is in fact not the case. The trademark and business name registers are completely separate and even if you were successful in registering a name for your company you could still be precluded from using it by someone who may have filed an earlier trademark application.
A trademark is the only legal monopoly you can get for a word, logo, or brand.
Registering a trademark is the most important and cheapest step to stopping counterfeiters from passing off their inferior products or services as yours, or of trying to imply a connection between their business and yours. As trademarks are central to brand building and can be renewed indefinitely, they are a valuable vanguard against competitors. Trademarks are renewable every ten (10) years, and are renewable in perpetuity, thereby providing protection against competitors trying to pass their inferior goods or services as your own.
It’s also worth mentioning Internet domain names, as they can also provide you with unique benefits, especially so if coupled with solid trademark protection. Always try and secure the name of your company and important products as trademarks and domain names.