A trademark indicates to the public that the goods or services associated with it originate with a particular trader, and serves to distinguish such goods or services from those of other traders. A trademark's ability to distinguish a particular trader is referred to as the mark's “distinctiveness.”

A trademark may generally consist of a word (such as PEPSI®) or words (such as KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN®), or a design (such as the GOLDEN ARCHES®), or a combination of such elements. A trademark may also consist of the shape of a product or its container (known as a "distinguishing guise") if that shape is distinctive of the goods of a particular trader. An example of a distinguishing guise is the well-known ROLLS ROYCE car grill. Certification marks, such as the wool symbol, are used to distinguish goods or services which are of a defined standard.