Trademarking your business is an important step in protecting yourself from copycats and imitators. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most complex steps in starting a new business. There are many things to consider—from what can be trademarked and how to choose a good mark all the way to how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete the process. You’re not alone though; we're here to help walk you through all these steps so that your brand can grow forever!
Trademarking your business name and/or logo is a crucial part of protecting your brand. By registering your trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you’re preventing other businesses from using them for themselves. When someone else uses your trademark without permission, it can lead to costly lawsuits and lost customers—so it’s worth the time and money to make sure you have a legal claim to yours.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, logo or design that identifies the source of goods or services. It can be used to distinguish your business from other companies and prevent consumers from being confused by similar products. For example, if you owned the rights to “Applebee’s®” it would be illegal for another restaurant to use that name in its marketing materials.
It’s important to note that trademarks are different from copyrights. While copyright protects original works of authorship such as novels, songs and software code, a trademark protects a brand or company name.
What Can be Trademarked?
Only certain things can be trademarked. The most common types of trademarks include words and phrases, logos, symbols and slogans. Generally speaking, a trademark has to be distinctive in order for it to be eligible for registration.
How to Choose a Good Trademark
When choosing a trademark, it’s important to remember that you want something that is not only unique but also descriptive of your business. For example, if your company sells beauty and skincare products, you would want to avoid using a term such as “beauty shop” or “skincare parlor.” These terms are too general, and they could be used by anyone who offers similar services.
Preliminary Clearance Search
Preliminary clearance searches are a good idea to do before you register your trademark. They act as a filter, preventing you from spending time, money, and energy on a mark that already exists. Here's what you should know about preliminary clearance searches:
A preliminary clearance search is an online search of the USPTO database for currently-registered trademarks with similar sounds or appearances to yours. This includes other marks (both actual ones and non-trademarks) that use the same words, letters or designs as those in your desired mark.
If the results show no matches between your proposed business name and any existing trademarks—or if they show only one potential match—you can go ahead and file for a registration without worrying about competition from another company using the same name or design.
Otherwise, it may be best not to apply just yet; instead, consider modifying your original concept until it no longer has any legal conflicts before making an attempt at registering it as your own brand identity.
Filing a Trademark Application with the USPTO
After you've determined that your business can get away with a trademark, the next step is to file an application with the USPTO. The process of doing this is fairly straightforward: You fill out an online form, pay a fee and wait for them to review it. If they approve your application, they'll publish it in their Official Gazette publication.
This is a good thing because it gives other people the opportunity to object to your trademark. If someone does object, you have 30 days to respond. If you don't respond within those 30 days (or if the USPTO rejects your application), they'll issue an official notice of abandonment and remove your application from their records.
A trademark application can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to be accepted, so don't expect an immediate response. If you have questions about the process or need help filing your application, be sure to talk to an attorney first.
Licensing Your Mark
Once you have a trademark, licensing your mark is one way to make money from it. This can be an effective way to expand your business and get more exposure for your brand. Licensing is also a good way to get products into the hands of consumers who wouldn't normally purchase them directly from you.
For example, if you own a restaurant called “Italian Joe's” and decide not to franchise it out, but instead license the name so that others can open their own Italian Joe's restaurants, you can have an agreement for them to pay you a percentage of their profits each year as part-ownership interests.
We hope that you now have a better understanding of what it means to trademark your business. The process can seem a bit cumbersome, but if you follow the steps outlined above and seek out legal help when needed, you can get your mark protected to keep your business safe from copycats.
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