You don’t want to mess with the law.
In the beginning stages of establishing your brand, it’s vital you understand the legal aspects of guaranteeing your brand’s protection. A trademark is included amongst these issues. And if you haven’t heard of it before, it ensures protection of any brand and its image.
To identify your brand from your brand’s competitors, a registered trademark is the right way to go. It can be a highly beneficial security measure to add to your brand. And in fact, it’s highly necessary, too.
Want to create a successful brand that withstands the tribulations of time, hackers, and cyber ne’er-do-wells? A registered trademark will aid you in this goal.
Let’s Get Down to the Basics
“What is a trademark?” you may ask, “and what is its purpose?”
A valuable asset to any brand, a trademark can be applied to a word, phrase, name, or symbol used in identifying a brand, company, product, or service. One of its primary purposes is to distinguish a brand from its competitors. Additionally, company names, product names, logos, phrases, symbols, and taglines can be trademarked, so long as it/they are deemed a distinguishable factor for your brand.
When a company trademarks an aspect of their brand, it is typically an aspect that is highly identifiable for that company. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Think of Apple’s “apple” logo, Nike’s “Just do it” tagline, and even the famous golden arches of McDonald’s. All of these are trademarked properties, owned by their respective companies.
So what’s the point of all this?
A trademark, being the distinguishable factor it is, pinpoints a product’s origin. It’s extremely beneficial for both businesses and consumers alike. A trademark builds a brand’s identity and reputation, and because of this, a trademark also builds and strengthens a brand’s presence.
On the consumer aspect, a trademark provides added assurance and confidence in your brand, a reminder of your brand’s consistency and superior quality when compared to competing brands.
Wondering how and where to get started? I’ll let you in on a little secret: your brand probably already has common law trademark protection. You see, as soon as you start to use your brand’s name, logo, or similar likeness, common law trademark protection begins.
But this isn’t enough!
You need stronger nationwide trademark protection. To do this, simply register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or otherwise known as the USPTO.
For a successful trademark registration, you’re going to need to follow a few essential steps. Read below for some details.
5 Helpful Tips to Protect Your Brand and Trademark
- Research, Research, Research!
The USPTO is very picky when it comes to registering a trademark. And so, you must make sure your trademark is unique and that there is no “likelihood of confusion” with another pre-existing, registered trademark. This situation occurs under the circumstances that the two trademarks are similar, and the goods or services being sold are similar as well.
It’s not fun being rejected, so make sure you do your homework beforehand. You can make sure you’re in the clear by completing a comprehensive trademark search. A comprehensive trademark search examines trademarks registered federally as well as ones protected by common law. By doing this, you save time and money. Not to mention, you won’t be at a loss in case worse comes to worst, and you’re forced to rebrand.
Federally registered trademarks are easily found through the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS; but if you don’t want to do the work, there are many companies which will perform the search for you.
- Prepare and Complete a Trademark Application
Once everything is all clear and no issues remain with either pending or registered trademarks, it’s time to register yours … how exciting!
This means it’s time to file a trademark application. The USPTO offers a Trademark Electronic Application Service, also known as TEAS, where you’re required to provide visual evidence, or a “picture,” of your trademark as well as a “specimen,” which could be anything from a label to a brochure exhibiting your brand’s use of the trademark.
The goods or services of your brand must also be identified, and your trademark’s intended use must be clear. Just as a matter of fact, the goods or services you list in your application are of critical importance, as your trademark protections will only cover those goods or services listed.
Make sure to save a few pretty pennies, too, as the trademark application is at the stake of a $225-325 (per class of goods or services registered) nonrefundable filing fee.
No room for error here!
Don’t be a Slacker! Respond ASAP to Office Actions or Oppositions
One lucky USPTO examining attorney will have the honor of being assigned to your trademark application. They will then review it and send you an “Office action” letter with any questions or concerns they may have.
Don’t worry if you get one of these! They’re pretty common, but you still have to take them seriously, of course. Like I said before: you don’t want to mess with the law.
Anyway, it’s essential to be quick and prompt in these circumstances! Your application is abandoned if you miss the specified deadline.
Going back to the “Office action” letter—if you do receive one, give thorough answers, making sure they completely answer what your USPTO examining attorney is asking. At the point when all problems are resolved, it’s (almost) time to celebrate! … A notice of your trademark will be published in the Official Gazette. Anyone can object to your trademark registration, but they’ll have to file an opposition (this is where you keep your enemies close).
Enforce Your Trademark
After ensuring there’s no opposition towards your trademark registration, and it’s finally approved, now you can truly celebrate! With that, you’re free to use the registered trademark symbol (®).
But there’s a catch.
The USPTO, although they’re the ones who registered your trademark, are not the ones who enforce it … you do.
In order to enforce your trademark, and thus protect it, it’s essential that you monitor USPTO filings and oppose any applications similar to your (now) registered trademark.
Also, it’s critical that you know your legal rights and how to protect your trademark from infringement. Be assertive. More often than not, a “cease and desist” letter works like a charm in stopping an infringer. But if that doesn’t work, thankfully, your federal trademark registration gives you the legal right to file a lawsuit in federal court.
Maintain Your Trademark
Last but not least, it’s time to maintain your trademark so it runs like a well-oiled machine!
It’s good to know that trademark registrations last for one decade. Between the 5th and 6th year of use, as well as the 9th and 10th year, make sure you follow through with a renewal and its prescribed maintenance documents. This is where it’s also crucial not to miss any deadlines, as your trademark registration will be cancelled if you do. Additionally, you must file a renewal every 10 years to keep your trademark and its protections. Unfortunately, the USPTO doesn’t alert you about your renewal date as it creeps up, so it’s pertinent you keep track of all your proceedings (a good practice for business owners anyway).
Another way to effectively maintain your trademark is to register with a third-party company, like 101domain, who offer domain monitoring services. This is often a wise decision, as it allows you to focus on growing your business instead of worrying about protecting your online brand reputation from brand-hijackers.
Why Should You Care, Anyway?
Let me reiterate: a registered trademark is the right way to go. It ensures full protection of your brand and its likeness, identifies your brand from your its competitors, and is a highly beneficial feature in procuring its success.
If you’re a business, a trademark is especially important. It ensures an extra level of security as well as confidence. And it’s a wise move to make.
Just follow these 5 simple steps, and you’ll be on the road to greatness.