One of the most important steps you can take to protect your brand legally is to ensure federal trademark protection for your name, logo, product names, or phrases.
It’s not a glamorous step in the brand-building process, especially if you’ve just finished the exhilarating process of designing your brand’s imagery, but it’s a step you’ll be thankful you completed down the road.
In this post, we’ll explain what a trademark is, why you should get it, and how to do so.
What is a Trademark?
The term “trademark” refers to a word, phrase, logo, or symbol that represents your business or brand. In addition to trademarking your entire business, you could also trademark a name or symbol for a particular product that you produce. An example of this would be a specific line of cars produced by an automaker.
To trademark your brand means that you have registered your phrase, name, logo, or symbol with the federal government. This is different from filing your business name locally or with your state. There are significant perks to this federal protection, which we’ll dive into in a bit, but the important thing to understand is that your brand’s name, phrase, or symbol will be cross-checked against all other brands in the United States database, so you’ll know if there’s overlap with another brand and whether that brand delivers similar services or goods to yours.
Once your brand has been recognized by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you can use the official trademark Ⓡ symbol after your mark.
When Should You Trademark Your Business?
From the very beginning, even before you’re “open” for business. This is an ideal time to trademark your brand because if there were to be an issue with your name or logo, you could contest that issue or make necessary changes to your brand collateral without the headache of having to explain to a well-established clientele.
If you’ve been in business for years without federally registering your brand, that’s OK. It’s never too late to do so, and the legal benefits of trademarking are still applicable even if your brand is well-established.
What are the Benefits of a Trademark?
Even though your brand can earn “common law” protection once it has been on the market, this pales in comparison to the protection your brand receives from a federal registration with the USPTO.
Some of these benefits include:
- Legal protection. A federal trademark provides a legal standard to contest other competing brands nationwide who use names, phrases or symbols that are confusingly similar to your own, and offer similar services or products.
- It never expires. Unlike a patent or copyright, a federal trademark is permanent as long as you pay periodic fees to maintain your business’ status.
- It’s inexpensive. The application fee is usually only a couple hundred dollars, which is a great upfront investment, especially when you compare that with the fines you could potentially pay if a brand claims that your phrase or symbol is too similar to theirs.
- It sets the stage for international growth. If your brand grows enough that you might want to register it in other countries, having a U.S. trademark is the first step to making that happen. It’s better to get this step done early since it can take around six months to complete.
- Proof of ownership. This is especially helpful when trying to secure funding from larger investors.
What are the steps to trademark your brand?
The trademark process is a waiting game, but isn’t particularly labor-intensive, especially if you take the time upfront to thoroughly vet your competition nationwide. Here are the steps to obtaining your federal trademark registration.
- Thoroughly search online and on all available databases to compare your brand’s name, phrase, and imagery with your competitors. This is a crucial step that can help you avoid a frustrating delay in your application. So, if you want to open a line of men’s shaving products called “Shine” in California, and you find that there’s a car wash in Oklahoma with the same name, you’re OK when it comes to trademark infringement. No one would be confused about which business offers what product.
- Fill out the online application at uspto.gov. This can be as short as a 90-minute process.
- Optional step: have your application, name, and logo assessed by a trademark lawyer. This can add significantly to your budget but could be worth it if you have concerns about a competitor.
- File your application.
- Monitor the progress of your application. If the USPTO reviewer asks for any clarifications or changes, you’ll want to respond to those quickly. Remember, there are mandatory waiting periods built-in throughout the process that allow for other businesses to contest your application.
Even though the trademark process can be a long wait and isn’t the most exhilarating part of being a business owner, it does offer some peace-of-mind for your business legally in such a competitive U.S. market.
Of course, one of the first and most crucial steps to a smooth trademark application process is to start with brand collateral that’s creative, unique, and personalized to your brand. For professional guidance on brand-building that will help you stand out (even legally!) from the crowd, contact our team at Deal Design.