May 16, 2019
A Trademark is a symbol, sign or expression that uniquely identifies the origin of products or services. It is one of the most visible and important parts of your business and is a symbol that links to your product or service in the customer’s mind. Think of Trademarks like that of McDonalds – “I’m Lovin’ It” and Rice Krispies – “Snap!Crackle!Pop!”.
Trademarks can be created and owned by individuals, businesses, or any legal entity. Trademarks are almost always used in promotional materials for that company, and they can also be used on buildings, labels, packaging, or on the product itself.
Starting your new business and would like to know more about Trademarks? Here are some tips to get you started:
Do Your Research
The first step in getting a Trademark is to find out if it already exists and some other entity is already using it. The Patent and Trademark Office registers all Trademarks in the US, and their website contains a free Trademark Electronic Search. Since there might be legalities involved, you might prefer to hire an attorney or a company specializing in Trademarks to conduct a thorough search for you. Once you have determined that your Trademark is unique and it is not already in use, you will be on your way to making it your own!
The Patent and Trademark Office has specific requirements for registering Trademarks. Avoid wasting time and make sure that what you are trying to Trademark does meet qualifications. Common phrases don’t apply. Nor will a functional feature.
Consider Word Marks
Most people want to register their logo first but registering a word mark might be more useful. When you register a word or a sequence of words, the use of the word(s) is covered regardless of color, font or configuration of the words,
Register Your Trademark
When a business or entity starts using a Trademark, they automatically acquire common-law trademark rights to it. However, the best practice is to register the Trademark with the federal Patent and Trademark office as well as the U.S. Customs Service for imported goods. Doing so gives you peace of mind that your Trademark is not being used elsewhere and will not be in the future. It gives you legal rights and ownership of the Trademark, and establishes a date for the registration.
It is important that the legal entity or person who will own the Trademark file for federal registration under their legal name. It is not essential to hire attorneys to file the registration papers on behalf of the owner, but some businesses prefer to do this to ensure that all legal issues are taken care of.
Monitor Your Trademark
Once you have registered your Trademark, you will need to monitor it to make sure that it is not being infringed upon. Even if a competitor uses a similar but slightly different logo, they can steal customers from your business by causing confusion as to what brand is authentic.
Therefore, it is often useful to monitor the filings in the Patent and Trademark Office online as well as through traditional means. Some businesses use an attorney to monitor their Trademark and to make sure it is not being used illegally.
Manage Growth at Startup
As your business grows and evolves, and you add new brands, products or services, make sure that your Trademark sufficiently covers the additional growth. Some marks might need to be retired because they are no longer relevant, while new ones might have to be registered.
Benefits of Trademark Registration
If your Trademark is registered, it deters anybody else who searches the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in using it. It is a way to identify that your brand is legal and legitimate, and this can be invaluable when it comes to standing out from a plethora of cheap knock-off brands.
You will be more likely to receive monetary damages in a lawsuit if you register your Trademark. If your Trademark is not registered, it is very difficult to retrieve any damages if the Trademark is infringed upon.
Blocking Infringed Goods
Your Trademark registration gives you the legal authority to block any infringed goods, if your competition is being imported from overseas. In fact, if the registration is provided to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they will block any goods bearing a Trademark that infringes yours.
If any product on a public marketplace like Amazon or Ebay is provided with the registration, the infringed listings can be taken down in the quickest fashion.
Trademarks are valuable parts of any business, and especially so for startups. Using judicious steps in registering your Trademark, monitoring it for infringement and also making sure that you respect other people’s rights and avoid any kind of infringement on their Trademark, you will ensure that your brand is secure and continues to flourish along with the growth of your business.
Jeff Williams is an experienced mechanical engineer and lawyer that consults closely with clients in a straightforward and clear manner. He brings a particular set of strengths and unique perspectives to the firm . Jeff received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2005. He was an engineer for a number of years at a number of large corporations before pursuing his law degree. He graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University School of Law) with a J.D. in 2010. By combining his education and prior work experience into the field of intellectual property law, Jeff has developed key skills to fully assist clients.