Protecting your identity is key to long-term business success. Who wants to build an amazing brand only to have it ripped off by a competitor? And with the Internet, this is easier to do than ever before. Yet many entrepreneurs overlook an important first step in doing this: trademarks.
What can be trademarked?
Any unique word, name, symbol, or device that distinguishes one seller’s product(s) or service(s) from those of another can be trademarked. Names, logo designs, taglines, and packaging can all be trademarked.
However, your asset must be unique. A common word or phrase can’t be trademarked – neither can one already associated with another product or service in the same industry. Generic terms like “Fishing Rod” can’t be trademarked, but a unique name like “Offshore Angler” can. (If, however, you’re using a generic term in an industry not related to the meaning of the term, you may still be able to trademark it. Apple is a good example.)
Of course, we recommend you trademark your logo design and/or tagline, because both should be unique to your company.
Copyright vs. trademark
A copyright offers more protection than a trademark, but it’s also more expensive and complicated to achieve. While many large brands protect their brand marks with a copyright, most small businesses begin using trademarks. You can always uprade to a copyright later.
The trademark process for logo designs
In the United States, it’s not expensive to trademark your logomark. In fact, it doesn’t cost a thing to get the ball rolling. Whoever uses a unique logo design first is considered the owner of it, so all you need to do to claim rights to your unique mark is add the trademark symbol, TM. “A unique logo design” is defined as the combination of the symbol, the company name, logo colors and the layout of the symbol and name.
To establish ownership beyond a doubt, you can register your logomark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Everything depends on the “uniqueness” of your mark. If you’re concerned, conduct your own trademark search using free websites that display existing trademarks, like those maintained by the USPTO or Secretary of States. Or, for a fee, you can use a trademark search company or a private attorney for detailed searches that include misspellings and alternate spellings. (Look for an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.)
Trademarks can be registered at the state or federal level. State registrations are less expensive, but also offer less protection. Trademarks are often registered within one industry, but can also be registered in more than one industry. Your best option depends on the scope of your business and geographic area in which you operate. International protection is much more costly and difficult. It is also extremely complicated and expensive to enforce.
If you file a trademark application with the USPTO, they make sure no trademarks similar to yours currently exist. If your logo design closely resembles someone else’s, your application will be denied. The good news is that unless you consciously design your logomark to look like the competition’s, you can probably trademark it. Combinations of symbols, names, typefaces, colors, and layouts are almost infinite!
NOTE: This article is written for general educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice.