One of the most valuable assets of many small businesses is its intellectual property. A unique business name, a beautiful logo, or a catchy slogan all contribute to the business’s brand and goodwill and increase the business’s potential for profitability. Since the intellectual property is such a vital aspect of your business, it is important to make sure it is protected. And the best way to protect your business’s name, logo, or slogan is with a trademark.
So what is a trademark, exactly? It’s a legal right that you have over a word, name, slogan, or logo that you created. A trademark gives you protection so other people and other businesses can’t use that word, name, or logo that in a way that might cause confusion amongst the general public with your business and with the other business.
When you create something that is unique, like a business name or logo, you already have a common law trademark in that name or logo. But enforcing that right is a little more difficult if you don’t have it as a registered trademark. So it is important and a good idea to register that trademark; that way if you do try to enforce those rights, it is a lot easier to prove that you own that trademark and prevent others from diminishing the value of your brand.
So, how do you register your trademark? You need to file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
When you file a trademark application, you need to file it under a specific class of goods or services. These classes are categories that your business’s service or product would fall under. So, if you have a logo that you use for your restaurant, your application would have a class that is related to food service or restaurants.
After that trademark application is submitted, the majority of times the USPTO will issue what is called an “Office Action,” which is basically an initial denial of your application for one reason or another.
This is where a lot of people give up because it looks like your application has been denied. But wait! It’s not. After that first Office Action you have the ability to appeal it and respond with a report, basically a legal report, explaining why whatever reasons the USPTO gave for denying the application shouldn’t be upheld and why your trademark should be registered. Responding to an Office Action can be a difficult task and it needs to be based on legal precedent and case law; that’s where a lot of the time normal people who aren’t attorneys have a hard time. So that’s why it is really important to at least consult with an attorney if you are wanting to register a trademark.
Even if your trademark does get registered without any sort of Office Action and nothing else comes up, it is still a pretty long process that generally takes about a year, if not more, to get the trademark formally registered because there are so many steps in the process.
For example, the USPTO needs to publish a notification of the pending registration so other people have an opportunity to contest it and prevent your mark from being registered. But assuming all goes well and there are no hiccups in the process, eventually you will have a registered trademark that will give you protection over your business name, logo, or slogan throughout the country.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have absolute ownership and can prevent anybody anywhere else from using your trademarked name or logo or something similar to it. The basis, generally, of whether someone is infringing on your rights is likelihood of confusion: if there is a high likelihood of confusion between the two businesses; i.e., is the general public or your target audience going to be confused by seeing this person’s business name or logo and think that they are related to your business? If there is that likelihood of confusion, then you will probably be able to get that business or person to stop using your mark.
If you have a distinguishable brand, business name, logo, or slogan, registered trademarks are essential to preserving and increasing the integrity of your business. We’ve got you covered with our all-inclusive trademark registration package. If you have questions or are ready to start protecting your brand, contact me.