- Understand the details about what a trademark is and how to apply for one
- For those starting or expanding businesses
- Learn how a trademark can protect your services, goods, and logos
There are countless examples of brand names, logos, and other intellectual property that have a small ® symbol denoting a registered trademark. That symbol serves as a strong protection of a company’s products and services, helping to ward off infringement or underhanded efforts to poach customers.
While trademarks are valuable to have, small business owners and entrepreneurs may be discouraged from pursuing them out of fear that the process will be too complex. However, acquiring a trademark is fairly straightforward and a step well worth taking to guard your interests.
What is a trademark?
Trademarks, along with patents, copyrights, and domain names, help protect your intellectual property and certify that it is your original work. A trademark typically applies to the brand names and logos used on products and services, identifying them as coming from a particular source.
Trademarks can also apply to a business name or symbols used by a company, and even to more obscure components such as sounds and colors. Some unusual trademarks include the “bong” sound effect in Taco Bell commercials and the brown hue used by UPS.
Certain trademarks are ineligible, including the American flag and the names of living people unless they have given their consent.
What are the benefits of a trademark?
The main benefit of a trademark is that it identifies a brand, logo, or other applicable item as your own property. This helps prevents other companies or competitors from developing products or services that are so similar to your own offerings that they might confuse consumers. Anyone who is found to have willfully infringed on your intellectual property rights can also be held liable for damages.
By making your logo, packaging, or other property as distinct as possible, you’ll increase your chances of prevailing if you ever need to challenge someone for infringement. This type of trademark is also valuable in increasing brand recognition.
Another benefit of the process is finding out what trademarks already exist. By reviewing what is already on the market in preparation for filing for a trademark, you can ensure that you don’t inadvertently infringe upon another company’s intellectual property.
When should I apply for a trademark?
Common law rights allow you to claim ownership of an available business name, logo, or other item as soon as you begin using it to conduct business. However, since a registered trademark offers more protection and the process can be a lengthy one, it is prudent to submit an application as soon as possible.
Businesses who have not yet started offering products or services can still apply for a trademark through an “intent to use” application. However, the business must be operational within six months of this submission.
While U.S. citizens are not required to use an attorney for the application process, it is strongly recommended that all applicants find one who is experienced in trademark matters. This professional can help guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have.
How do I apply for a trademark?
Applicants are responsible for selecting their mark, determining which goods and services it will apply to, and finding out whether anyone else has already claimed a similar trademark. They must also choose from one of four bases for filing and two bases for registration.
Applications must be submitted through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and this process can be completed online at USPTO.gov. To register the trademark, a business owner typically needs to describe the mark, when it was first used, what products and services it will be used for, and what classification it will be registered under.
The trademark process is subject to legal review, which can often take several months, and applicants are responsible for monitoring the status of their application. If the mark is denied, an appeal process is available. If no issues arise, the mark is approved and notice is published in the USPTO’s weekly Official Gazette.
What do I need to do after I receive a trademark?
A trademark lasts for 10 years. After this point, a business owner must renew it.
Business owners are responsible for monitoring and maintaining any registration information related to a trademark. The USPTO is also not responsible for enforcing trademark infringement issues; if a business owner feels their rights have been infringed, they must take action on their own.