A trademark is usually a word, phrase, design, symbol, or combination of those things that represents a brand’s products and services.
Having one is an essential part of protecting your brand, especially as your company grows. You should register your trademark as soon as possible after you start doing business, or even before you start doing business.
There’s no need to be intimidated by the trademark registration process. While it can take some time for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to fully review your application and complete your paperwork, actually registering a trademark is fairly simple. Here’s what you need to do.
The first step in the process may be the hardest – choosing your trademark. You can’t register any old mark with the USPTO as a trademark. A trademark can be any logo, name, or design.
You can even trademark a sound, a color or a combination of colors, or a smell (the smell of Play-Doh is trademarked). But not all marks are going to be registrable. You can’t register descriptive names, for example, nor can you trademark religious quotes or common phrases.
It’s very common for people who are registering a trademark for the first time to attempt to trademark something that isn’t registrable or to choose a mark that’s too similar to an existing mark. The stronger the mark, the easier it’s going to be to protect. It can be helpful to get a professional to help you design a strong logo for your business.
Search the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
Before you apply for trademark registration, you need to check the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) for similar marks. If someone has already registered a mark similar to your mark, it can be grounds for having your trademark registration denied.
The only way your mark could still be registered is if you and the competitor with a similar mark are in completely different industries, offering completely different products and services.
For example, two companies have trademarked the word “Dove:” a soap company and a chocolate company. Because the products are so different, there is no chance that customers will confuse one company’s mark for the other’s.
Searching the TESS for trademarks similar to your own can be confusing. You can get the help of a trademark registration service to check trademark names and symbols in the database before you begin putting together a trademark registration application.
If you don’t find any other trademarks that are similar to yours, or at least aren’t in the same industry as you, then you should be good to go – but using a trademark registration service can also be helpful because you’ll get the advice of a lawyer when filing your trademark application.
Know What Information the USPTO Is Looking For
The USPTO will need to know:
- What format do you want to use for your trademark, whether it’s a standard character, a sound, a stylized design, or what have you;
- What goods and services the mark will identify;
- Your up-to-date email address and physical address; and
- What is your basis for filing is.
You don’t need to use a trademark attorney unless you live abroad. But an attorney can help you make sure your application is correct the first time around so you don’t have to pay additional fees to file again.
Submit Your Application Online
You can submit your application online at USPTO.gov or using a trademark registration service. You will need to file your application through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).
Keep an Eye on the Status of Your Application
You can sign into your USPTO.gov account to monitor the status of your trademark application. You should check your application status at least every three to four months so you don’t miss any deadlines. Make sure to keep your contact information updated in your account.
Cooperate with the Examining Attorney
Once it’s determined that your application meets the USPTO’s minimum filing requirements, your application will be passed to an examining attorney who will determine whether your application fulfills all legal and statutory requirements and comes with the required fees. This part of the process can take several months or longer, as the attorney will be looking for similar marks and examining the application and mark you’re trying to register.
If the attorney denies your application, you’ll get an office action letter explaining why. You and your attorney will have a chance to correct your application and resubmit it, but you must do this within three months. You also have the option to request a three-month extension.
Get Your Approval or Denial
If the USPTO approves your trademark registration, your mark will be published in the Official Gazette. Anyone who wants to contest the mark has 30 days from the date of this publication to do so. If no one contests your mark, you will receive a notice of allowance a few months later. You can then start to use the mark and file a statement of use (SOU).
Finally, the USPTO and your examining attorney will review the SOU, and if it meets the requirements, you will be issued a trademark registration in another two months. Once your trademark is registered, you will need to monitor your registration and file additional paperwork to have it renewed periodically.
Registering a trademark yourself can be overwhelming. You can always choose a trademark registration service to help. Get the expertise of an attorney to ensure your trademark registration goes smoothly, so you can focus on building your company.