To make things a bit more confusing, companies, products and services may have the same name from time to time. For instance, there’s Pandora, the jewelry company, and Pandora, the music streaming service. This may seem to contradict the Coke example, but these two entities are in vastly different industries, so there’s no cause to believe a consumer would confuse one with the other when making a purchasing decision.
Having a registered trademark from the federal government offers you protections that a state-level registration cannot. It allows you to bring legal action against another company that is using your registered mark. For instance, if you discover a business is using your federal registered mark in another state, you can send them a cease and desist letter or file legal action against them.
A trademark can be registered by you or an intellectual property attorney. Some companies offer this service as well. You can do an initial search in TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System.
So, what can be trademarked?
Letters and words, logos, pictures, combinations of words and logos, slogans, colors, product shapes and sounds can be all be trademarked. For example, the distinctive pink of Owens-Corning’s insulation is trademarked as is the three-tone chime of NBC.
There are trademark rights that are also common law, existing beyond those protected in statute. This provides you some protection of your mark within your own state’s borders, even if someone else had it registered in another state. Unless they had a federal registration, of course.
Because a federally registered trademark is national in scope, it has certain benefits, including the ability to recover damages for infringement as well as attorney fees. You are granted the right to use the ® symbol, clearly demonstrating ownership and ease of discovery in searches, preventing others from using similar marks.