How to Register a Trademark
The most recent guest post from MyCorporation covered copyrights and what entrepreneurs can do to protect these assets. Today, we’re shifting gears to trademarks, which are often considered to be the same thing as copyrights.
Are trademarks interchangeable with copyrights? The quick answer is no!
Copyrights protect original works of authorship. Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols, designs, and logos that distinguish a business and emphasize its uniqueness to the world. Creative words, phrases, and designs that are not protected by trademarks risk being plagiarized by outside sources. These sources may even go so far as to trademark your ideas as their own. You (and your business) could be powerless to stop competitors if you never claimed prior exclusive rights by registering a trademark.
If you own and operate a small business that has an original name and/or design, chances are that you have already federally-filed and registered the trademarks to prove you are the rightful owner. Entrepreneurs who have created brand-new unique phrases and/or logos need to pause before they debut these ideas publicly. Follow these steps to register the trademarks and protect the ideas before they can be claimed by someone else.
1. Conduct a trademark search.
Before filing a trademark application, do not assume that your mark may not already be in use elsewhere. However unique your idea may be, it is possible that another entrepreneur or business may have already claimed the trademark or have the mark pending under their name.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a trademark database to entrepreneurs so that they may conduct a thorough search. Invest a bit of extra time into comprehensively conducting a search for your desired trademark. You may view already registered and pending trademark applications within the database.
Has your mark already been taken? It’s time to head back to the drawing board and brainstorm again. If you struggle to come up with a better trademark, the USPTO recommends creating a strong mark. This is a trademark that is federally registrable and legally protectable. (You can watch an animated video in the link that shares more about how a strong trademark is made.)
Is your mark up for grabs? If it’s available, it’s time to reserve it.
2. Determine whether you should consult a trademark attorney before filing.
I wish I could tell you that the next step in the process is to file your trademark as quickly as possible. However, every business and entrepreneur is different. You may find that you begin filing and the application contains questions that you cannot answer.
Rather than attempt to go it alone without a clear understanding of what you’re doing, it is recommended that you consult a trademark attorney for help. The USPTO outlines the types of attorneys that may be allowed to represent and work with you on their website, so it is recommended that entrepreneurs follow their guidelines.
This is, of course, not a requirement by any means. Regardless, many applicants do turn to trademark attorneys for legal advice. This advice can cover anything from application filing to use of the trademark and help entrepreneurs to avoid making common mistakes.
Keep in mind that you may need to pay a fee for the assistance of a trademark attorney, but the trade-off may be worth it for peace of mind in filing to register the mark.
3. File a trademark application to register the trademark.
You’ve conducted the search, consulted an attorney, and determined that your mark is federally registrable. It’s time to file your application and register the trademark.
Remember that in addition to being federally registrable, the USPTO states that your trademark must also be able to properly identify your goods and services. You must also be able to identify the proper filing basis for the application, which you may discuss with a trademark attorney beforehand.
Once you have met these requirements, you may begin filing a trademark application. Keep in mind that you will need to pay a filing fee (which is also a nonrefundable processing fee) with your application before submitting it in for approval. You will also need to apply within the Eastern Time Zone, as stated by the USPTO.
What should you do while you wait?
Curious about your application’s status? The USPTO recommends monitoring your application through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. This allows applicants to conduct a trademark watch, essentially “watching” over other pending applications that could be registering similar marks in order to better protect your trademark.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and copyright and trademark filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.
Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.