Federal vs. State trademark registrations

What’s the difference between a federal and state trademark registration?  The level of protection. In short, a federal trademark registration offers wide-ranging trademark protection from infringement occurring anywhere in the United States, whereas individual states offer localized registration with limited protections for the immediate geographic area.

A state trademark registration is sort of like officially recorded common law rights. It establishes your date of first use and can be used to defend your mark against local infringers. This application, and the review process, goes directly through the state, not the USPTO. It’s relatively quick, simple, and comparatively inexpensive.

However, while a state registration does protect your mark against infringers in your area, a federal registration recognizes your trademark on a national level and carries more weight in terms of defending your mark, especially if your business goes beyond – or expands across – state lines. It will be cited by the USPTO for refusals on confusingly similar applications that might come along, and it has the potential to be used as the basis for an international trademark registration.

A federal registration also allows for use of the ® symbol. A state registration, on the other hand, may only use the ™ symbol. There is nothing that prevents you from holding both a state and federal registration for your trademark, so if you currently hold a state registration, but are interested in pursuing further, federal protections, you can do so at any time.