Trademarks as a form of intellectual property are meant to protect a brand name or symbol, so that the owner’s product or service is easily distinguishable from a similar product or service. A trademark does not protect the product or service itself, but confers the ability to prevent others from the use of the name or mark in commerce. Like copyright, a trademark does not need to be registered to confer protection, although trademark registration has more advantages.
What can have a trademark?
From the USPTO website:
A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or combination, that is used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those manufactured or sold by others, and also to indicate the source of the goods.
A service mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or combination that is used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the services.
What are trademarks good for?
PSU registers and uses - through a different office - trademarks for the university. Logos, Vikings symbols, and other marks are used to denote PSU goods or services provided by PSU.
For research results and innovations at PSU, trademarks can be used in the same way. Inasmuch as a research group may want to prevent others from using a name or mark in order to distinguish the work they are doing or the service to the community they are providing, trademarks may provide an appropriate tool. We can also use trademarks to set service standards for a particular project, especially if their are ‘satellite’ projects being performed by external partners - we allow them to use our name or mark, but only if they adhere to the standards we employ.
For more information, see http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp