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SarahSays: Trademarks

Jan 15, 2008

by Sarah Feingold

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

So you’re sitting in a cafe and you’re online with your laptop —you know, the one with the cute little fruit logo. You’re buying handmade items from that web site with the orange and white brick rectangular symbol on every page. You suddenly get a craving for a hamburger from the golden arches and a soda with the red and white wave writing on the can.

Based on these quick descriptions, can you guess the name of the web site? What brand of computer do you own?  Where do you want to buy your burger and what is the name of the beverage you crave?

Sure! The Etsy logo, Macintosh’s apple, McDonalds’s arches, and CocaCola’s red “spencerian” script are all easily identified with just vague descriptions. That’s because they are all trademarks — or brand names. And they are meant to instantaneously communicate to you, dear potential customer, which company made that product.

Trademarks actually have their roots in the arts, which Etsians might find interesting. Ancient Greek and Roman potters marked their wares with symbols to show quality and ownership, and medieval paper makers watermarked their papers. These markings represent the history of what would become trademarks.


[Old World Map Serving Tray by wildwood]

Today, trademarks serve a similar purpose to their ancient predecessors. They convey to the buyer the maker of the product and symbolize the quality for which that maker is known. So, trademarks and reputation go hand in hand. For example, if I discover the Etsy logo on a product in a craft store, I will associate that symbol with what I already know about Etsy, the company, the culture, and the community (hopefully good things!).  Since I am familiar with Etsy, I might decide that I don’t need to research this trademark brandishing item.  By looking at the logo, I know the brand.  My opinion of Etsy will help me decide whether to buy the product.

But, what are trademarks and why are they so important?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “a trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.”

The customer is not the only one who benefits from trademarks. Trademarks also help assure that the company (and not an imitating competitor) reaps the financial and reputation-based rewards associated with their brand.  Therefore a company like Etsy is encouraged to continue to act responsibly and produce excellent products and stear clear of “things that will harm the brand.”  Etsy is then rewarded by this with loyal customers and good publicity.  Also, Etsy can put an end to imitating competitors who might damage the Etsy name. So at the end of the day, our legal system and society developed trademarks to serve both buyers and sellers.

U.S. trademark law protects consumers from being confused about where a product comes from and from frauds. The law rewards companies for maintaining their product’s quality by protecting that brand from imitators.

Check back for more SarahSays articles about Trademarks! Comment below!  We’d love to hear your thoughts on Trademarks: which trademarks you think work well and why…

17 comments

  • magickalrealism

    magickalrealism said 11 years ago

    This is going to be a really valuable series. I'm letting my EGCG members know about it, since this is important stuff for the microbrands growing on Etsy.

  • LaPellaPottery

    LaPellaPottery said 11 years ago

    We are dealing with a trademark issue right now. A company has applied to trademark the term "Neti Pot". The gov't appears bound to deny the trademark on grounds it is the accepted general term for the item, but in the meantime it is considered "live". We decided rather than to risk litigation, we will call our neti pots "Snot Pots".

  • gerrijo

    gerrijo said 11 years ago

    I think I like snot pots intothefire, so much clearer what it is used for instead of neti pot. Interesting article sarahsays, I agree that this should be an informative series.

  • lookability

    lookability said 11 years ago

    Good article: I'd like to know more about how and when trademarks and copyrights are made/bought? Are any of these automatic, or is everything based on filing with the government? Are there international trademarks vs. trademarks for one country? Are copyrights just for "copy" or written content? How about patents? And what's up with patent pending? Sorry... too many questions... maybe you can incorporate some answers in a future article. Thanks!

  • LazerBeanz

    LazerBeanz said 11 years ago

    Really enjoying these articles! Thank you for making this business stuff friendlier.

  • MyShabbyShack

    MyShabbyShack said 11 years ago

    You can find out more about trademarks at www.uspto.gov. Here you can also file a trademark application and get a lot of useful information regarding trademarks. The United States is one of the few countries that bases trademark rights on actual use. In other words, you do not have to have a trademark registration to have or assert trademark rights. Other countries have their own trademark processes and requirements which is something that is important to keep in mind since the internet is global. With regard to copyrights - you can get more information here http://www.copyright.gov. Trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, etc. all fall under a category commonly known as IP law.

  • momomadeit

    momomadeit said 11 years ago

    if i have a trademark and someone else uses the term, say, in a tag, will etsy request that the other shop remove my trademark name?

  • Thepaperboat

    Thepaperboat said 10 years ago

    Nice article! I have the same questions as lookability... I am hailing from Spain and want to know if it´s best to register my TM in the US?

  • Eggcentricity0

    Eggcentricity0 said 10 years ago

    Good question momomadeit, I just signed on to Etsy and someone else is using my state of Maine trademark as a name - so I added a "0" on the end of my name. I don't like to cause trouble for people and the other user creates totally different things, so I am not sure if either of us has rights over the other - and that can be confusing. As I understand trademark law in the US, if your product is different than the products of someone else, your uniqueness plays a part in the trademark approval process. I am in the process of waiting for approval for my US trademark which may or may not be successful. You don't know until their office reviews your application. I've had the State of Maine trademark since 2003. The cost to submit the application is about $400, plus other fees to research your potential claim to a name. I have invested about $695 so far and I won't know for perhaps a year if I will be successful. Oh well.

  • sherylCrowe

    sherylCrowe said 10 years ago

    yes that is my real name, and i am more then a decade older, hmmm.. who "owns" that one, she sings I make Jewelry.. I am not even allowed to sing in the shower both of us artists, when I sell I do make a very very bold statement (Disclaimer) that Sheryl the singer is not in any way supporting sponsoring extra.. . extra.. i have it all written out to use on another site I have asked this question to many many sites and people, and NO ONE can even begin to give me an answer, since i Have not opened my shop I do believe I am going to make a slight change to sheryl crowe's designs this kinda helps distinguish singing from something that is being made.. but I wanted to keep my shop name simple easy to remember, my name is easy, but the disclaimer will still be there its the only way I can think of to separate two artists.. and to cover my back side, any comments? ideas? Sheryl Crowe, Jewelry artist

  • boomswagger

    boomswagger said 10 years ago

    I picked out my account name "boomswagger" back when I was only wanting to buy on etsy. Now I'm considering opening up my own shop, however, I have a question about my account name. I came up with the name because I love the song "Boom Swagger Boom" by the Murder City Devils (a band that broke up a while ago). I really like the name, but I'm not sure if it would be against the rules to use it for my shop. Should I open up a shop using a different name?

  • 5150nash

    5150nash said 10 years ago

    Thank you very much for the information. I think I get it? So if I am obtaining images, say of NFL or MLB logos, and adhering them to something that I made and painted with the team colors, I might have a problem. But if I freehand paint the logos on, I should be OK?

  • starboardport

    starboardport said 9 years ago

    If you have an Etsy-based question, try contacting the other artist and discussing a solution. Artists are creators and collaborators, and the conversation will be hundreds of times easier than anything in messy legalese. If you admire another artist, work to establish a partnership where you combine creativity and share profits. Here's a link with loads of other helpful links from someone who got in trouble over bottle cap art: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=148194.msg1464674#msg1464674 Most importantly: treat others' creations(even those of big smelly corporations) as you wish yours to be treated http://starboardport.com

  • empiricalgirl

    empiricalgirl said 9 years ago

    So does this mean I can't make t-shirts with the Etsy name on it?

  • MANNY56

    MANNY56 said 9 years ago

    LA INDIA COSTOMIZE JEWLERY ITEMS OR ONE OF KIND NO DUBLICATE

  • cmonkey

    cmonkey said 8 years ago

    I have a similar question as above, I signed up as cmonkey as a buyer now I am planning to open my shop and wonder if there will be any problems using the name..it is spelled differently than "Sea-Monkeys" a trade-marked name, and I am not selling small brine shrimp pets...can I still use the name?

  • RockArtiste

    Rock Artiste from RockArtiste said 6 years ago

    There is a vendor on Etsy right now that buys items from etsy vendors and then resells them on her site as if they are her own. she glues them to her jewelry and raises the price x 3 over what she originally paid for it. sounds like I have to hire an atty to seek relief from her reselling my art. I was hoping Etsy would put a stop to vendors reselling on this site, unless it was vintage. guess not. You have to hire an atty or something. Please people, be original. Do not copy or resell another artisans art unless you have their permission. It cheapens the entire site for everyone.

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