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A trademark is any word or other symbol that is consistently associated with a product or service and identifies and distinguishes that product or service from others in the marketplace. Trademarks are the most familiar branch of intellectual property law. On a daily basis, everyone sees, uses, and makes many decisions on the basis of trademarks. For instance, the purchase of a car, an appliance, packaged food, a magazine, computer, or a watch, is based, at least to some extent, on the trademark.

Trademarks are useful in conjunction with inventions, whether patentable or not. For example, consider the Crock Pot and the Hula Hoop. Both of these products were unpatentable, but the names of the products were protected under trademark laws. As a result of advertising consumers sought out the trademarked products and not those from competitors. In short, a trademark provides brand-name recognition to the product and a patent provides a tool to enforce a monopoly based on functional features. Because trademark rights can be kept forever (as long as the trademark continues to be used), a trademark can be a powerful means of effectively extending a monopoly on the market for the invention long after the patent has expired. For example, the Scotchguard process for protecting carpets was invented by Patsy Sherman and Samuel Smith and patented in 1973. Even though other companies may now copy the process, the Scotchguard trademark is still synonymous with quality carpet protection and gives the company an edge among consumers who want products to protect carpet and fabrics. In this section we discuss trademark basics --  how to protect and register a trademark -- and how to distinguish a trademark and patent.