Chances are you’ve probably heard of the word “trademark” thrown around here and there. But do you know exactly what it is?
Put simply, a trademark is a sign used to distinguish your business’ goods and services from the goods and services of others. While it isn’t essential to register a trademark, doing so can preserve your rights by preventing similar signs from popping up.
This guide explains what trademarks are, the benefits of registration, and how to register your trademark.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is generally a word, phrase, slogan, symbol, or design, or combination thereof, that identifies the source of your goods and services and distinguishes them from the goods and services of another party. That is, a trademark lets consumers know that the goods or services come only from you and not from someone else.
Think about it this way: a trademark is a brand. It distinguishes your goods and services from those of your competitors. It helps consumers decide what to buy when choosing between similar or related products.
People often ask if there's a difference between a trademark and a service mark. There is: a trademark identifies the source of goods (like, shoes or laptops) and a service mark identifies the source of services (like, landscaping or accounting).
Registering a trademark for your business is an important step. Whether it’s your brand name or logo, it’s necessary to have protection in place to stop someone else from using your marks. The good news is, you can register your trademark in about one hour for roughly $300 USD. If you’re looking for some clarity on how everything works, or just want to learn more about the trademark process, this guide will help you. We have outlined below the simple step-by-step process that will help you register a trademark and ensure your name and logo are protected.
Do You Need a Trademark?
Before going through the process of registering a trademark, it’s worth making sure that you need or should have one. Typically, a trademark is used to protect a name or logo that represents or appears on goods and services you are selling. For example, if my business, ‘Bob’s Chips,' is using the name ‘Bob’s Chips’ and a logo on a packet of chips, this would qualify as being registrable. For business names that aren’t explicitly used with your goods or services or a domain name, you may not be eligible for a trademark.
If you can relate to Bob and his fast-selling chips, then read on to Step 1!
Step 1: Search The "TESS" Database For Already Registered Trademarks
Before you start the process of registering your trademark, you need to search through the database of existing trademarks to ensure your business name isn’t already registered.
Just visit the following website: www.uspto.gov, click on Trademarks in the menu, then locate and click ‘Searching Trademarks’ under the ‘Application Process’ title.
For your convenience, we have included the link to this page to save you from the above steps if you choose not to go to the USPTO home page.
Scroll down the page and locate the heading that says ‘Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)’ and click ‘Search Trademarks.
Once you enter the TESS database, you’ll be given three search options:
Basic Word Mark Search - this option allows you to search for text form trademarks, such as business names or product names. If you’re registering a trademark for your brand name or product name, use this option.
Word and/or Design Mark Search (Structured) - this option allows you to search text-based trademarks as well as design related marks. If you’re looking to search for specific characteristics of your logo, use this tool to search for existing design marks. You will first need to check the ‘Design Code Search Manual’ to learn the design codes for specific attributes of your design.
Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form) - this option is a more advanced way to search word and design trademarks. Using boolean logic and multiple search fields, you can conduct a more specific search for attributes of your design or brand name. We recommend using option b to search for design trademarks, but you can check out the Free Form option if you like.
There are two more ‘advanced options’ below. The first, ‘Browse Directory,' simply allows you to browse the database as opposed to searching for a particular item. The second option, ‘Search OG publication date or registration date,' allows you to search trademarks to find out what date they were registered. This can be useful if you believe your trademark has already been registered by someone else, or if someone claims you’re using their trademark later on.
If you find your name or design is already registered, or something very similar to your name or design is already registered, we recommend consulting a lawyer. Before attempting to register your trademark or changing the name or design, get some legal advice to find out what your options are.
Step 2: Submit Your Trademark Application Form
So you’ve searched the TESS database and found that your name and design are not registered? Great, it’s now time to fill out the application form and submit your trademark request.
To submit your application, you will need to use the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). You can locate this section by clicking the following link: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/teas/index.jsp.
Alternatively, it is very easy to find from the USPTO home page. Just hover over the trademarks tab on the main menu, and you will see ‘Apply online (TEAS)’ in the white box on the right-hand side.
The two most common options for applying are ‘TEAS reduced-fee’ and ‘TEAS regular.' They will cost you $275 and $325 respectively. It is worth noting that the fee is an application process fee, so if your trademark request is denied, you will still have to pay the fee. The reduced-fee option requires an email address and some other correspondence but is worth the discount if you don’t mind a few minor extra steps.
Scroll down the page and click on ‘1. Initial Application Forms’, or click the following link: https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/filing-online/initial-application-forms
Here, you can choose the form that you have decided to apply for and click to open. You will then be taken to the application form. Simply follow the prompts and fill out all the necessary details. Once you reach the end of the form, click submit. Congratulations, you have filed for a trademark!
Step 3: Receive Approval or Denial For Your Trademark Application
The process of having your application reviewed can take quite a while, sometimes two to three months. The USPTO will have an attorney review your application. If there are any reasons noted that suggest you should be denied a trademark, the USPTO will issue you a letter detailing the reasons why. In some cases, if the reasons are minor, you will have an opportunity to respond to the letter and make any adjustments necessary. Ensure you keep an eye on your inbox and reply to the letter as soon as possible.
If you are successful, the USPTO will issue you a notice of allowance based on the reasons you stated in the application form. Once you have received your notice of allowance, you will have to complete and submit a Statement of Use form. A Statement of Use form is a formal application that outlines your intent for using the trademark. Once it is submitted, the USPTO will review the form and, if it meets all requirements, they will issue a registration for your trademark and your mark will officially be ‘live’!
Step 4: Maintain Your Trademark
Now that your Statement of Use application has been approved, your trademark is officially registered! While you can now relax and enjoy the peace of mind that your marks are protected, there are a few important things to consider in regards to the maintenance of your trademark.
After your Statement of Use has been approved, you need to lodge maintenance documents to ensure the registration remains active. You will likely get a notification of this requirement once your Statement of Use has been approved, and instructions should be given to you by email. If you don’t receive instruction on filing maintenance documents, make sure to get in contact with the USPTO as soon as your Statement of Use is approved, as lodging these documents has to be done within two months of approval.
It is imperative that your current address is used in your trademark registration. If you change address, make sure you update the address in your registration as soon as possible. Also, make sure to regularly check the status of your trademark registration, via the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. If you file any changes, or renew or update your registration, be sure to check the TSDR system to ensure your trademark remains active.
The USPTO does not monitor any matters related to trademark infringement, so it is up to you to lodge a case if you see someone is infringing on your mark. If you see someone using your trademark without your permission, it is best to seek legal advice on how to pursue the matter. Alternatively, you can make a record of your trademark through the U.S. Customs & Border Protection site.
Make it Official This Year!
If you have a brand name or logo design, it's an excellent idea to get it trademarked. A trademark not only represents trust and reputation, but it will protect you if someone tries to use or copy your name or design. If you are using your name or logo as a part of goods or services you are offering, it is likely that you will qualify for a trademark and it is in your best interest to file for a trademark to ensure protection.
Are we jumping the gun a little? If you don't have a great logo design, you're in luck! It's never been easier to get one. Thanks to the power of crowdsourcing, you can source a logo design from some of the best graphic designers worldwide. Simply post a logo design contest, or a project and you can get a logo design that's worthy of a trademark. Take your business to the next level by hiring a graphic designer today!