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Whether you are launching a startup or have been in business for many years, protecting your company is a vital step that can help prevent problems in the future. You can do this by hiring a good business lawyer, selecting the appropriate business legal structure, having a reliable accountant do your bookkeeping, and obtaining business insurance coverage. But what about protecting your business name and logo? Doing so offers you certain levels of legal protection if other businesses use your brand name and identity, which can confuse your customers and damage your reputation. Of course, we are talking about trademarking.
A trademark is a legal “mark” that protects your business’s name, logo, service mark, and any symbols relating to your company’s brand. In addition to helping protect your business from copycat branding and fraud, a trademark can help differentiate your business in the marketplace and make it unique. This Balboa Capital blog post features an overview of trademarks, including how they work and how to apply for one.
In the blog paragraph above, we provided a general trademark description. However, there is much more information to become familiar with. First, a trademark can be a word (or words), name, logo, and symbol used to identify a brand and its products and services and legally distinguishes it from other brands. In some instances, companies also register brand attributes like shapes, sounds, scents/fragrances, and colors. Businesses with legally approved marks often incorporate the little registration mark on their company logos.
Second, a brand name, logo, or related mark must meet specific requirements to qualify for trademark protection. For example, it needs to be distinctive and used in commerce, and the mark needs to be available. If another business has already trademarked a similar mark, a company will face an uphill climb when trying to trademark it. Many applications are denied when their marks are too similar to those that already have legal protection.
Third, trademarks are protected by law and may only be used on or in connection with goods and services which fall under the trademark owner’s control. So, suppose a company copies the name or logo of another company in the same industry. In that case, the holder of the original mark will most likely win a legal dispute.
How to register a trademark.
Many small business owners avoid trademarking their brands for a variety of reasons. Some do not understand why a mark is needed, while others think getting a mark is too expensive and time-consuming. No matter the reason, running a business can be risky without legally protecting the name and logo mark. In addition, trademark lawsuits can arise without warning and can be quite costly.
Registering a trademark is a reasonably straightforward process. And although it requires a nominal investment, it can give business owners peace of mind in knowing that they are legally protected should another company use their names and marks. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website is an excellent place to start. It features robust search functionality that lets users look for existing marks in the USPTO database.
Another option is hiring a business attorney specializing in intellectual property (IP). These attorneys are experts in the field of trademarking and can submit completed applications on time and provide business owners with updates on the status of their applications.
How long does it take to get a trademark?
Once a trademark application is submitted, it takes approximately three to six months for the USPTO to review it and verify the information. Please note this is the first step of the process, as it entails multiple steps. The business will need to meet various legal requirements. Not all applications are accepted, and business owners whose applications are rejected will be notified. The entire application, review and decision-making process takes between one year and 18 months.
When an application gets approved, the USPTO registers the trademark. The business owner must pay specific fees and meet scheduled deadlines to keep the mark active (live). Additional forms, called maintenance documents, need to be filed several years after the registration date. Therefore, business owners must stay on top of what must be done once their applications are approved. If a trademark is not renewed on time and expires, another business might be able to claim ownership of the same business name.
Sorting through the ins and outs of trademark law can be difficult, not to mention time-consuming. Every small business has its own situation regarding branding, logo design, slogans, and products and services. So, hiring an IP attorney might be worth considering if you want to ensure everything is done according to trademark laws. Of course, an attorney can also help ensure that your trademark application is free from errors and includes all necessary information for the USPTO.
Balboa Capital, a Division of Ameris Bank, is not affiliated with nor endorses the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.