A trademark is any distinct indicator used by an individual, business entity, or organization to distinguish its identity, as well as its products and services, from the thousands of other similar groups and items out in the market. Trademarks come in the form of names, slogans or catchphrases, symbols, designs or images that give a company or a product an identity. Aside from giving identity, trademarks are also being used by companies to create brand loyalty since consumers remember trademarks better than long company names or unknown brands.
Trademarks are treated by the law as a form of property and, like other forms of property, its owner enjoys exclusive rights and privileges. When you legally acquire property, it is your right to prohibit anyone from exercising control over it. In real estate, such right forbids others from entering and using your land or building. In trademarks, such right prevents others from using your company’s logo, products or services for their own benefit.
Clearly, owning a trademark is beneficial to any individual or business entity. It ensures that earnings and profits derived from the sale of a particular product or service associated with their trademark goes directly and completely to their coffers.
If you intend to keep the scope of your business local (i.e. only within your state or municipality), you can attach a TM (for “trademark”) or SM (for “service name”) beside your company name or logo to obtain common-law trademark protection. However, if your business plans to expand to a more national – or even international – scope, like when you intend to export or set up business in a website, you would need to register the trademark with the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO).
Registering trademarks is tricky business, and some companies would hire a lawyer to expedite the process of registration and to breeze through the technicalities. Patent attorneys are specially qualified and trained to represent clients throughout the entire registration process. Nevertheless, it is important to understand at a general level how trademark registration is actually done.
When you conceive of a phrase or a logo to act as your trademark, you have to immediately check if anyone else has registered a trademark that is substantially similar to the one you have thought of. By “substantially similar,” it is meant that your trademark should not cause confusion between your company or product and an existing one, and that your trademark will not lessen the reputation of the first company. A free trademark search is available at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as well as online in certain websites.
Checking for pre-existing trademarks is essential because of the awful legal consequences when your trademark overlaps with an existing one. Since a trademark is a form of property, the aggrieved party can file a trademark infringement suit that can prove very costly for your business. Conversely, you can also get patent lawyers to file an infringement suit if find out that another business entity is unlawfully using your registered trademark.
Once you are certain about the uniqueness of your trademark, you then fill out the Federal Trademark Application Form from the USPTO. If you intend to register the name of a website rather than your company’s logo, you can instead register a domain name with a domain name registrar like godaddy.com. You would still have to file your domain as a trademark with the USPTO, though, if you intend to use it as your business name, too.
After you’ve sent in your application, you would need to sit out the next few months, waiting for the processing and approval of your application. The USPTO will be in regular correspondence with you to inform you of corrections that would have to be made should your trademark prove to be unacceptable. Even after your trademark is initially approved, any business entity that believes your trademark is damaging to their brand or business can file an opposition that will be elevated to the courts for a decision. In the absence of an opposition, your trademark is already registered and you can already enjoy the benefits that come with it.
While trademarks come with immense benefits to your business, registering one is definitely time consuming. It is also very complicated and tricky, especially if you are not familiar with the processes and the legal jargon. Hence, if in doubt, do not hesitate to call a lawyer for assistance.