A registered trademark is a legally protected name or a symbol under which a company provides goods or services. It can be the same as the business name, or incorporate part of the business name, or be a completely different name. The trademark protects the identity of your business — which is usually expressed through a logo, brand-name, and/ or company name.
So if your logo is the visual design that signifies your brand, business, or overall concept, protecting it is a good idea. If you don’t actually have a logo yet, you can easily create your own using the Namecheap Logo Maker.
You could simply claim a trademark on your site, on your packaging, or in your ads by adding the initials TM for your goods or SM for your services next to your brand or logo. But this does next to nothing for protecting your business from misuse or infringement by others. That is where registering trademarks comes in.
In the United States, intellectual property rights are written into the Constitution. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency in charge of maintaining the national registry of trademarks. Once you obtain a registered trademark from the USPTO, you can--and should--use the ® symbol next to it.
The USPTO can register two basic different styles of displayable trademarks:
A standard-character trademark consists of words, numbers, letters or a combination of those without any specific font, color, or design. Examples of registered standard-character trademarks are Coca-Cola®, Twitter®, or The Chocolate Melts in Your Mouth-Not in Your Hand®.
Special-form trademarks cover designed visual elements. These can be specific colors, typefaces, and font specifications for branded words or phrases. They can also be graphic visuals, such as the Starbucks® Mermaid or the Nike® Swoosh. For maximum protection, large corporations often separately register the standard-character words, the styled words, the graphic visuals, and marks combining their graphic visuals with their styled word.
Trademarking your brand is a vital business decision. It will:
Even without registering it, your trademark can already give you a tiny amount of protection in your local market and in the category of product or service that you are selling. However, you can lose that trademark if someone else registers it. You can even lose it if someone several states away registers a trademark that is similar enough to yours in your market segment.
That's why you might want to move quickly. Taking some time to build up your production and testing your business model is fine. But when you start planning your expansion beyond your local market, it is high time to register your trademark. If you are relying on the internet for advertising and sales, then you should definitely consider registering your trademark.
As soon as you have made the final determination of the branding under which you want to operate, you can start the clock on legal protection of your trademarks by submitting your applications to the USPTO.
There are broad guidelines for what kinds of trademarks are approved for registration. Because many people share the same last names, the USPTO won't protect a surname as a trademark unless it is already well established as a brand for a specific product. The USPTO trademark application examiners will also reject trademarks that are just generic identifiers for a product. Bicycles cannot be registered as a trademark for your business selling bikes, but Bicycle is the registered trademark for a brand of playing cards.
Securing a registered trademark from the USPTO does not mean that the agency will now be going after those who are infringing on your rights. The USPTO is not an enforcement agency. It is still your responsibility to seek legal remedy before a court of law if you feel your intellectual property rights are being violated. The USPTO registration will help you prove ownership of your trademarks.
Once your trademark has been approved for registration, that does not mean that you become the exclusive owner of that word or logo. Even with the best lawyers in the United States, you cannot stop every use of that term or phrase anywhere and anytime. The legal protection only covers use by competitors in your field.
Your registration can also expire if you do not prove in a timely manner that you are indeed actively using it for commerce. If you cannot document that you are actively continuing to trade under that brand, your logo will lose its protection and be available for anyone to use legally. That is why the quasi-defunct Blockbuster chain maintains one last video-rental location in Bend, Oregon.
Before sending off your application to the USPTO, you should try to establish that your chosen mark is unique to the field you are operating in. This process of due diligence can take some time, but it is better to make the effort up front than to risk rejection by your examiner or opposition by the holder of another registered trademark in the public review phase. The USPTO provides a public search interface, but a specialized attorney can help make sure no stone is left unturned.
Make sure your chosen brand is not merely descriptive or generic. The USPTO examiner will evaluate how strong your trademark is on a scale from cold to hot. At the unacceptable end of the scale are common everyday names or descriptives for the goods or service: Bagel Shop for a bagel shop, or Creamy for yoghurt. The strongest trademarks are either fanciful, entirely made-up words or arbitrary words that have no association with the goods or service. Think Pepsi® for soft drinks, or Apple® for computers. In between, there are the suggestive trademarks that don't directly name the quality of the goods or services but evoke them nonetheless, like Coppertone® for suntan lotion.
The USPTO has a Master List of categories on which you have to find the codes that best match your products or services. You have to pay an additional fee for each extra category. The categories for products are completely distinct from the categories for services. So if you are selling pre-designed shirts as well as custom-printing on shirts as a service, you have to file for two different categories.
In case you are filing for a special-form trademark as defined above, you have to upload a high-quality design drawing file. This will be printed on your registration certificate.
When you file your application, you have to determine whether you are seeking to register a trademark that is already in use or one that you intend to use in future. In the first case, you have to supply specimens of the trademark as it appears on your website, on your flyers, or in your ads. For applications to register trademarks for intended use, you will have deadlines to submit the statements of use and specimens later.
If your application goes through and you obtain registration for your trademark, you have to perform actions at regular intervals to show that your trademark is still alive.
Five years after registration, you have to submit proof of the continued commercial use of the mark. You have to send specimens and fill out forms again. Another round of submissions is required at the ten-year mark. After that, the interval for keeping the USPTO updated on the active status of your trademark is 10 years. If you fail to file these documents on time, your trademark risks being declared Canceled.
There are two initial filing options:
No, that is not a typo: the fees for TEAS Plus are lower because you submit every required document and classification up front. It is better suited for trademarks that are already in use.
With the TEAS Standard option, you can file a partial application and submit the rest later. You pay for the extra administrative burden that falls on the Office. But this allows you to apply for protection for intended use.
Every maintenance filing is subject to a fee as well, typically $225 per class.
Any legal representation you choose to hire will be in addition to this fee structure. If you come across somebody soliciting trademark services, be wary: fraudsters have been known to use the USPTO database to target businesses in renewal scams.
The term trademark is what the United States Patent and Trademark Office uses to distinguish names or logos used as commercial identifiers from patents, which cover technical innovations, and from the copyrights, which cover created works in a tangible medium such as books, songs, or videos. Trademark protection will not cover the copy on your website, or your Instagram ad, or a video tutorial.
As with many of these legal structures, the lines are never completely clear, nor are they forever fixed. The courts across the land are constantly handing out verdicts that refine these distinctions over time, or recast them for a new technological era. The USPTO allows the registration of sound trademarks, for example. The Looney Tunes melody is a registered sound trademark. It is also a copyrighted work, but versions of it have seen copyright protection expire. Its trademark status, if actively maintained, can go on and on.
A lot of love and hard work can go into designing and establishing a brand. It would be a shame to let it all go to waste by not seeking legal protection from copycats and fraudsters. The procedure for registering a trademark in the United States is transparent and can be done online. Legal assistance from a trademark attorney is recommended but not mandatory.
Even if you are just starting to offer goods or services online using a logo created, for example, using the Namecheap Logo Maker, having a registered trademark can give you an aura of increased legitimacy as a vendor. The process can take quite a while, so don't wait and get started now!