Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Seller Handbook

Understanding Trademarks

What is a trademark? Etsy's in-house attorney explains in this quick guide.

By Sarah Feingold Jan 15, 2008
Photo by OurVintageBungalow

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.

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.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on trademarks below.


Sarah Feingold

Sarah Feingold is Etsy's in-house attorney. She is also a jeweler with an extreme sweet tooth.


Continue reading in Legal