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What is a Trademark & How Do You Register One?

what-is-a-trademarkAs an entrepreneur or business owner, you likely have a company name, logo, slogan, or some combination of the three that you use to identify your goods and services. You probably know that it’s a good idea to protect your assets when you conduct business. But you may not know that a name, logo, and slogan are forms of intellectual property, and that they can be valuable assets which you should protect just like your tangible assets such as equipment and real estate.

The best way to protect your company name and logo is by registering a trademark. If you are wondering what is a trademark and how do you register one, read on. The following guide is meant to help you understand what is a trademark and how do you register a trademark to protect your intellectual property.

What is a Trademark

We all know the golden arches of McDonald’s or Nike’s distinctive swoosh. Symbols such as these, which differentiate brands from their competitors and indicate the source of different goods & services, are trademarks (sometimes called service marks). When you trademark words, symbols, sounds, or designs intended to distinguish your product or service from other providers, you provide consumers a quick and reliable way to associate the quality of your offerings with your brand.

You don’t need to federally register your mark, but there are several advantages to filing for a trademark. Once you file, your trademark becomes searchable in the federal Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). This gives you legal presumption of ownership and exclusive rights to your mark nationwide and may prevent costly lawsuits in the future.

It is important to understand the difference between trademarks and other means of protecting your intellectual property, such as patents, and copyrights. Here is a helpful guide to protecting intellectual property to get you started. Also, be sure to check with a trademark attorney to ensure you are filing for the correct type of protection.

How to Register a Trademark

First, clarify in your mind certain parts of your trademark before formally filing. You need to decide what your mark will look like, the goods and/or services you want connected with your mark, and your “basis” for filing (i.e. is it a mark you are currently using or one you plan to use in the future).

Choose Your Format

There are three different trademark formats to choose from when deciding the style of mark for which you will file. Standard character, stylized/design, and sound mark are the three formats you can choose from when designing your mark. You may not mix and match when filing, so be sure to consider the format that best matches your style.

Identify the Appropriate Categories

You will also need to list the goods and/or services that will be associated with your mark. This identification process needs to be specific and precise. Use the Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual in order to find the exact categories that your trademark will represent. If you are unsure, find a trademark lawyer to help you. You don’t want to screw it up.

Demonstrate Your Use of the Mark in Commerce (if any)

You must decide if your basis for filing is for a mark that you have already been using, or one that you genuinely intend to use in the near future. If you are filing for a mark that is currently in use within your business, you must be prepared to demonstrate that you have been using your mark on all of your goods/services.

Perform a Trademark Search

Once you have compiled the basics of your mark, you can search the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO) database to ensure no one else has made claims to trademark rights similar to your own. If someone else has a similar mark, you are at risk of being accused of trademark infringement, which would be highly detrimental to your brand and business. So make sure to do your search thoroughly.

File for a Trademark

Although it is possible to file for your trademark online, most businesses prefer to hire a trademark attorney to help them wade through this complicated process and avoid potential pitfalls. Other trademark owners may have trademarks similar to yours that are not federally registered. You can avoid costly future legal problems by having your attorney conduct a comprehensive search of federal registrations, state registrations, and “common law” unregistered trademarks before you file your application. Having a lawyer at your disposal after the process is also helpful when it comes to policing and enforcing your trademark, should someone else infringe on your mark down the road.