In today’s competitive business landscape, everyone is trying to knock each other off — similar products, similar brand names, similar services, even similar logos. If you feel you have something special and unique, why would you not want to protect it through a business trademark? The success or failure of your LLC or other business structure could be decided by registering or not registering for a trademark.
A Business Trademark Protects Your Business
Each year we see more and more business owners going through the trademark registration process. The World Intellectual Property Organization stated that in 2016, more than 7 million trademark applications were filed, which was 16.4 percent higher than the previous year.
While you can fill out the application yourself, many business owners ask for guidance to ensure everything they are putting on the application is correct and gives them the best opportunity to get the trademarks they are seeking.
Trademark registration can be a frustrating process if you’ve never been through it before. It can take up a lot of your time, especially if your trademark is not granted and you need to make revisions. For that reason, using an online trademark service such as Incfile to help you through the process is highly recommended.
What Do All of Those Little Symbols Mean?
There are two trademark symbols you have probably seen businesses use. The first one is the trademark symbol (™) and the second is the registered trademark symbol (®).
You are able to use the trademark symbol for protection under common law and you do not need to go through the full trademark registration process. On the other hand, using the registered trademark symbol denotes that the trademark has been registered and approved through a government agency — and may ONLY be used once approved and never prior. Therefore, you may wish to use the ™ symbol once you submit your application and then make the change after you get the green light that you were accepted.
When it comes to actual protection of your intellectual property (IP), having a registered trademark offers the greatest protection. A registered trademark gives you national protection and the ability to be awarded damages should you use legal action against someone who is accused of infringing on your registered trademark.
What Can You Trademark?
You may register your business trademark for the following items to distinguish your business from everyone else in the space and prevent others from using your IP:
What Exactly Does a Trademark Do for Your Business?
There are many advantages to having a trademark (both common law and registered). Some of those advantages include:
- Protecting your IP from those who want to copy it
- Building your brand loyalty and trust
- Strengthening your case legally if someone tries to steal your IP (registered trademark only)
- Free use of the common law trademark symbol
- Low costs (around $275 federal fee) to apply for a registered trademark (plus any costs to use a service or attorney)
What Is the Business Trademark Process?
It would be wise to do your own homework instead of crossing your fingers that no one else has the trademark you are after. A good place to start would be to do a search in the trademark database.
The business trademark process goes as follows:
- Apply for a trademark through the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office).
- Choose what class you want your products or services to be under (there are 45 different classes and you may need trademarks in multiple classes).
- USPTO will verify that your trademark is unique for business (not personal ownership) and that no one else is currently using it or going through the application process.
- When accepted or declined, the USPTO will reach out to you with their ruling.
- Your business trademark is good for a 10-year term and needs to be renewed every 10 years to keep your trademark active.
Once you have a registered trademark, you may only use it within the United States. It will not carry over as worldwide protection from use. You may, however, go through another (international) application process to have your business trademark also registered overseas.
It should be noted that just because you put in an application for your trademark, it does not mean you will get it. There are certain guidelines that need to be followed and even then, you are still not 100 percent guaranteed approval. You can also expect to wait anywhere from nine months to several years before you are finally approved with your business trademark — most will generally receive a response within a year.
What Happens If Someone Uses Your Business Trademark?
There are some instances where you have the legal option to go after someone or a business if they use your trademark. However, it has to be in direct competition with your brand and business. This can be both with products and services.
If their use is to compete with your business, you can get your attorney involved. More than likely, the attorney will send out a cease and desist letter to the person or company who is infringing on your business trademark. The letter will demand they immediately stop using your trademark. If stopping their use is the only thing you’re asking, most of the time they will comply. However, you do have the option (due to having an actual registered trademark) to sue them for any damages/losses you may incur from their use of your trademark.
An area where you do not have the power or authority to stop someone is when they are using your trademark in a completely different industry. For example, if you have a trademark for a something that deals with industrial equipment, you would not be able to go after someone using the same logo, slogan, name, etc. if they are in the apparel business. This is because they don’t compete with you in any way, shape or form and therefore couldn’t be doing any harm to your business.
Note: You are in charge of enforcing your own trademark. Just because you have a business trademark does not mean someone will be policing the internet and businesses across the nation to see if someone is using your name, logo, slogan, etc. It’s up to you to stay on top of things and, if need be, get your attorney involved.
If you enjoyed the information in this article, there are a ton of great resources on Incfile to help improve your business and its growth. Additionally, Incfile can help you file your trademark and take all of the guesswork out of the process.