The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of the others.” It’s different from a copyright, which protects literary and artistic works, or a patent, which protects ideas and technologies. Instead, a trademark protects the name of a business or product. In this article we look at the trademark basics you should know.
Firstly, a trademark can be an image, like the Nike Swoosh. Or, it can be a word or phrase, as long as you use it in commerce by putting it on your website, on your product packaging, and use it in association with your products or services. There are several kinds of trademarks you can register.
Does your company need a trademark? Not necessarily. If you’re using a word, phrase, image, or logo in association with your business, you can get common-law trademark protection. But common law trademark protection only applies in your geographical area. If you want to protect your business’s name, slogan, or logo while operating in multiple states, you need the federal protection of a trademark. First, you need to make sure your proposed trademark, or something similar, isn’t already taken. Then you need to put together an application, file, and wait for feedback from the USPTO.
The first step towards how to trademark a name is to search for already registered trademarks to make sure nothing similar has already been trademarked. Search directly with the USPTO at their Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Search for the trademark you want, as well as similar trademarks.
If your proposed trademark has already been trademarked by someone else, you won’t be able to trademark it yourself.
Once you ensure that your trademark is unique, you can prepare your registration application. You will need to give:
Trademark application fees start at $250 and can go up, depending on how many classes you want your trademark to cover. If your business location is within the United States, you can file a trademark application without a lawyer. But if your business is outside the United States, you will need a trademark lawyer. Even if you don’t need a trademark lawyer, having one could make your trademark approval process easier.
Once you compile your trademark registration application, you have a couple of options for filing. TEAS Plus offers lower filing fees and a lower rejection rate, but it has more requirements than TEAS Standard. TEAS Plus is therefore the best filing method for most small business owners. However, TEAS Standard can offer you a path to trademark registration even if you can’t provide all of the information asked for by TEAS Plus. Or you may need to create a custom description of your goods and services because the right description isn't in the TEAS Plus list. After you file your trademark application, the USPTO will send you a confirmation with a serial number. You can then use this to track the status of your filing.
It can take several months to receive a trademark registration. A USPTO patent attorney will look over your application, and if he or she finds problems, you’ll receive what’s known as an “office action,” which is a letter outlining all the legal issues with your trademark or with the application itself. According to new USPTO rules, you will have three months to respond to the office action. Your trademark can’t be registered until all legal problems with the trademark itself and with your application have been resolved. You may need to hire a trademark lawyer to resolve any legal issues with your application or your trademark itself.
Once you’ve resolved any legal issues with your application and it is approved, the USPTO will publish your trademark for three months to give other trademark holders a chance to oppose it. If no one does, your trademark will be registered. If someone does oppose your trademark, you will probably need to hire a trademark lawyer to defend your trademark.
Registering a trademark can do so much to protect your business, and while it can take a long time, it’s not that complicated. It’s definitely worth it to protect your intellectual property and your brand awareness. Keep these trademark basics in mind as you register your company’s trademark today.