It does not matter if the business you own is a brand new startup or a decades old institution; the amount of intellectual property that went into its creation is likely enormous. Whether you created all of that intellectual property on your own or in conjunction with your partners and employees, you have a vested interest in protecting it from copycats, nefarious business owners and those who would do your firm harm.
If you fail to protect your company logo, your brand image and other elements of your intellectual property with a registered trademark, you could have not protection if someone else steals your idea and takes advantage of your hard work. Unfortunately, many business owners fail to take even the most basic steps to protect their trademarks and safeguard their brands, and they end up on the losing side of the intellectual property fight as a result.
For those unfamiliar with the trademark process, it is helpful to compare it to something you probably know a lot better. If you invent a new product or manufacturing process, you would take immediate steps to patent that idea. You would hire the best patent attorney in town, conduct a thorough patent search and apply for patent pending status before anyone else could take credit for your hard work and creativity.
You can think of the registered trademark as the intellectual property equivalent of the patent process. While there are some key differences, there are a number of powerful similarities, most notably in the protection the trademark process can provide for entrepreneurs and business owners.
The registered trademark process may not involve getting a patent or applying for patent status, and there is no patent attorney involved. Even so, the intent of the patent and trademark processes are much the same.
Just as the patent application process is designed to protect the physical objects you hope to create; the trademark process is designed to protect your intellectual property. Your company logo may not have physical form, but it does have enormous value to your and your business.
Getting a Trademark – Preparatory Steps
If you are ready to protect the intellectual property you have created with a registered trademark, it is important to take the right preparatory steps. Just as you would never dream of applying for patent pending status without the help of a qualified patent attorney, getting expert advice and guidance will be critical as you move through the registered trademark process.
It is also important to learn as much as you can about the trademark process and which elements of your intellectual property can and cannot be trademarked. A registered trademark can provide you and your business with valuable protection, but not everything is eligible for this kind of safeguard.
One of the most important things to know about seeking trademark protection is that similarity to an existing logo or brand could come back to haunt you. Even if you think that your logo is totally original and your letterhead design has never been seen before, it is important to do your homework and research similar businesses in your area.
There have been many lawsuits related to similarities in company logos, and not all of these similarities are obvious to the business owners in question. If you run a hamburger stand, you instinctively know that you cannot put a pair of golden arches outside. But can you designate your Marie Hamburger stand with a stylized M, or what the courts hold that it was too similar to the iconic McDonald’s brand? Having a trademark and patent expert at your side can help you sort through the confusion as you decide what is and is not eligible for intellectual property protection.
Getting a Trademark – The Process Explained
If you have never applied for a registered trademark before, you may be baffled by the process. You may not understand what you need to do, and you may not fully grasp the complexity of the process.
Once you understand the process, however, getting a registered trademark to protect your intellectual property becomes a lot less challenging. While it is still a good idea to hire an expert, there are a lot of things you can do on your own. Here is a look at the process of applying for an obtaining a registered trademark for your logo, design and other intellectual property elements.
Determine Which Type of Protection is Right for You
There are many different kinds of protection available to business owners, inventors and entrepreneurs, so the first step is to determine which process is most appropriate in your case. Do you need a patent, a copyright, a business name restriction, a trademark, a domain name protection or something else? In order to make that decision, you need to know how these protections differ, and which one you need for your business.
If your goal is to protect a brand name or a logo, you will typically need a trademark. A registered trademark is designed to protect things like logos used on product, brand names and the like. If you have invented a physical process or a design process, a patent is probably more appropriate, and if you have written a book, you will probably need a copyright.
Get Ready to Apply
The application process for a trademark can be confusing and lengthy, so it is important to seek professional help and guidance as soon as possible. An experienced trademark attorney can help you determine which pieces of your intellectual property qualify for trademark protection, and which types of protection are most appropriate.
Once you, or your attorney, is ready to file for trademark protection, the next stop will be the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This extensive clearinghouse keeps track of not only patent applications and patent pending status but registered trademarks as well.
Once you, or your trademark attorney, has completed the application, it will be filed with the USPTO. You will need to pay a fee and submit it with the application, and you will receive a determination letting you know if your intellectual property is eligible for trademark protection.
You will also need to provide some basic information along with your trademark application, including your name, the name of your company and your physical address and other contact information. Be sure all of the information you submit is accurate and up to date, since the USPTO will use it to contact you if there is a question about your trademark application.
Once your application for a registered trademark has been submitted, the USPTO will assign you an examining attorney. This individual will help you work out the details – and ultimately decide if your logo, design and other intellectual property is eligible for trademark protection.
You will be assigned an examining attorney as soon as the USPTO determines that you have met all the minimum filing requirements for trademark protection. Once these basic requirements have been met, your application for a trademark will be assigned an application serial number. You can use this serial number to track the progress of your trademark, making it easier to understand the process.
The examining attorney assigned by the United States Patent and Trademark Office will review your application for a registered trademark carefully, and they may ask you some questions as the process moves along. It is important to provide complete answers to any inquiries, and you may want to consult with your trademark attorney before responding to their questions.
Once all of the relevant information has been reviewed, and all of the questions of the examining attorney have been answered, the USPTO will issue its ruling. This ruling will either be an approval of your trademark application, along with all of the protections it provides, or a denial of that application.
If your trademark application is approved by the USPTO, you can begin to use your registered trademark to protect your logo and other intellectual process. If the trademark application is denied, the USPTO will detail the reasons for the denial. You can either move on and pursue other protections or look for ways to correct the deficiencies and resubmit the application.
If you do receive approval for your registered trademark, it is important to maintain that protection carefully. Once your application has been approved, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will issue you a registration. This registered trademark provides important protections, but you will need to keep the registration live by filing certain maintenance documents.
Your trademark attorney can help you determine what these maintenance documents are and how to file them. It is important to work with an expert to keep your registered trademark active and your intellectual property protected.
You may not realize it, but the intellectual property your company owns is probably one of its most valuable assets. Think about the logos you see every day, and how they represent the companies involved. Once you realize how integral those registered trademarks are to the companies that own them, you will understand the importance of protecting your own firm through the trademark process.