Intellectual property can amount to millions of dollars, as consumers respond to images, sounds and words they recognize and trust. By trademarking your non-material assets, you are protecting them from copycats who wish to ride on the success of your ideas.
Here are the steps in trademarking something.
- Design a strong non-material product. While ideas themselves cannot be trademarked, the physical expression of such ideas can be. Jingles, logos, names and figures are among the company assets that can be protected under law.
- Check if an identical or similar product doesn't exist in the trademark database. Search through the federal trademark database under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You can also expand your search via popular online search engines like Google or Yahoo!.
- Note that looking for similar images will take much longer than looking for similar names. Not only will checking for similar objects with existing trademarks allow you to modify your design accordingly, it will also alert you to the possibility of trademark infringement on your side and give you time to adjust your design to avoid a potential lawsuit. You can also hire a consultant who can effectively search via several channels for you.
- Apply for a trademark online. Fill up the application form, upload a copy of the product then pay the fee of $375 for examination and approval. When you are expanding to other countries, see if your trademark applies over there, and then take the appropriate steps.
- Track the approval process. It may take months for the Trademark office to approve of your product as they compare it with existing trademarks. The office will notify you on their decision.
- Maintain your trademark. Once your application has been approved, you may now add “TM” to your product when including it to all your marketing and labeling to signal its trademarked status.
- Consider hiring a trademark lawyer. While a lawyer can be expensive, they have the knowledge and experience to smoothly go through the application process. Ask for recommendations on a good lawyer, consult them on the design you have then give him permission to file the application for you. The same law firm may also litigate all subsequent trademark infringement cases in your behalf.
- Consider purchasing an existing trademark. If the object you want to trademark already exist in the database but you are adamant in pursuing it, you have the option of purchasing it from the trademark holder. There is always a chance the company or individual is financially faltering and is willing to part with its intellectual property for a reasonable amount. Have your lawyer locate and contact the holder then open up discussions for a trademark transaction.
The trademark process can be expensive, but losses, bad press and missed opportunities resulting from infringement can be more financially damaging to your company. Apply for a trademark for your non-material assets as soon as you can afford it to allow you to proceed with peace of mind as you continue to build on your brand.