Here you'll learn how to trademark a name to protect your brand and avoid someone else using the same name.
We'll go through the complete trademark application process and the filing fees, as well as the limitations of trademark protection.
Finally, we'll go over important information you should know and the most common questions regarding the topic.
What Is A Trademark?
A trademark is an official, legal designation that allows a company to exclusively market or use a product phrase, symbol, word, or logo for differentiation purposes.
In general, trademarks are intellectual property. In the US, anyone can file them through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The designation for registered trademarks is the ® symbol, while unregistered trademarks get the ™ symbol.
Why You Should Trademark Your Business Name
Trademarking your business name gives you the exclusive right to use it. If others start using it, you can file a lawsuit against them in a federal court.
Aside from making it easy for you to protect your brand, there are other benefits of trademarking your business.
Firstly, your trademark can act as your security when getting a loan
If you are a sole proprietor
, you will need to have a business account (under your business name) to secure a loan.
Even though you don't need to trademark the name, you will have an easier time negotiating for a loan if no one else uses that name.
Secondly, you can license and transfer a registered trademark with relative ease
. You can also use it to obtain business registration in some countries.
This can only mean that protecting your brand in other parts of the world becomes easy.
How To Trademark A Name For Your Business: Step-By-Step Guide
1. Come Up With A Business Name
Your first course of action should be to come up with a name.
This applies if you do not have a name already or want to change it to one that best reflects your business.
Since your patent will represent your brand, you need to be careful to come up with a catchy, attractive yet practical name.
Business Name Ideas
2. Search For Your Business Name
Your next step should be ensuring that the name doesn't have an existing trademark.
To complete the search, go to the US Patent and Trademark
website and check the system database.
3. File A Trademark Registration Application
When you want to file a trademark, you need to fill out your application online at the USPTO website.
There used to be an option for a paper application, but as of early 2020, the process is only online.
When completing your application, you'll need to state the categories of products and clarify whether it also comes with a design component.
One thing to be careful about is adding your domain extension to your trademark. If your trademark doesn't include the domain, anyone else can use the name and simply change the extension to trademark it as their own.
If you operate a business online, don’t register your web extension (such as .com or .net) when trademarking your business name. Getting a trademark without the domain extension will help prevent other businesses from registering the same name by just adding a different extension.
You should get feedback from the Patent and Trademark office about 6 months after completing your application after the initial filing.
Depending on the response, you can use your trade name in commerce or go back to the drawing board.
Once the USPTO approves your trademark, they publish the name. From this stage, all you need to do is renew the trade name as required.
If you notice someone using your trade name, simply send the person a cease-and-desist letter and take appropriate legal action.
How To Trademark A Business Name With LegalZoom
If you are too busy to complete the trademark application or you are not so confident about it, you can always let LegalZoom
complete the application for you.
The tool requires you to fill out a simple questionnaire and wait as their team does all the hard work for you.
This, without a doubt, comes at a cost, but the cost is considerably low and ideal for small business owners who find the costs of hiring an attorney restrictive.
There are many advantages to using LegalZoom, like:
- Simple registration process
- Intuitive software
- Lower costs when compared to the costs of hiring an attorney
How Much Does A Trademark Cost?
The cost varies depending on your situation.
Trademark For The First Time
It can cost from $225 to $600 to file a trademark application for the first time.
Trademarks have different classes, with the costs varying depending on such. The USPTO allows trademark registration online only, through the Trademark Electronic Application System, or TEAS.
TEAS Plus is the cheapest class at $225 but also comes with more requirements you have to meet. To qualify, you have to select from a pre-approved class set by the USPTO and pay the filing fee upfront.
You also will only communicate either online or via email.
The TEAS RF class costs $275. It's similar to Plus, except you don't have to choose the services or goods at the beginning. You can also select a custom class if what you want to trademark doesn't fit well into the pre-approved categories.
The TEAS Regular class costs $400. It allows people to select custom trademark classes and communicate with USPTO lawyers in writing instead of by email.
Maintaining The Trademark
Once you have an existing trademark, you'll need to maintain it.
This can cost between $550 and $1,250.
Part of the process is proving that your business still uses the trademark with the class you chose when you first filed it.
Hiring A Trademark Lawyer
You may choose to hire a lawyer or law firm to help you navigate through the trademark process. Most lawyers will charge a flat fee that will cover registration and a search for already-existing trademarks.
A trademark lawyer could cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
You may face other costs as well. This includes choosing more than one class for your trademark. However, this might be necessary if you want to protect against infringement in multiple classes.
You may also need to pay outside companies or workers to submit drawings of your trademark. And, if you want to challenge someone else's trademark, there will be a fee to do so.
Tips To Lower Costs
If you want to lower your trademark costs, you could opt to register just in your state. This would provide you legal protection within your state but not outside of it.
A simple way to reduce your costs is to submit all your information online. Going the TEAS Plus route can cut down on costs if you don't need the paper trail.
How To Maintain Your Trademark
You'll need to maintain your trademark if you want to keep ownership of it. There are five essential elements of maintaining your trademark.
The first, renewal, should happen every 10 years
To do this, you have to file a renewal application with the USPTO that shows evidence that you're still using the trademark according to your initial application
The renewal includes listing all items in the registration that you sell, an image or photo of the trademark as it appears, along with your services or products, and the supplemental fee.
The Cautionary Notice is a legal advertisement put in a publication. It officially notifies others that they aren't allowed to use a product or service with that specific name.
The third aspect of maintaining your trademark is paying income taxes every year. This is relatively straightforward but will vary from one business to the next.
The Affidavit of Use comes with your renewal every 10 years. It avers that you are still using the trademark for your service or product exactly as you stated in your initial application.
After you file all this information, you'll receive a Proof of Renewal of Basic Registration that says that your trademark is valid once again.
Limitations Of A Trademark
A trademark isn't a blank check to do whatever you want with the name you are protecting. There are some limitations to trademarks.
One of the most significant limitations is the burden of protection. The USPTO is the agency that registers all trademarks, but it's up to the trademark owner to fight against infringements.
Trademarks are also only limited to the United States—or even potentially to just one state, depending on how you registered it.
They expire 10 years from the initial approval unless you renew them.
Finally, a trademark will only protect your chosen name as long as you use it in the trademark class you selected during your application.
If you want to expand your services or products into another trademark class, you'll have to file a second application.
Things That You Can't Trademark
There are a few things that you can't trademark. First and foremost, you can't file for a trademark for any existing trademarks
. This is because the trademark provides exclusive protection, so the USPTO can't give it to two different applications.
You can't trademark a generic phrase or words
used in the normal operation of the business. So, for example, if you operate a retail store that sells clothes, you probably won't be able to trademark the word "clothes" by itself.
You also won't be able to trademark a name or phrase that's commonly used by another business located in your state or within your industry—even if that business hasn't officially registered it.
Due to the anti-dilution law, a trademark owner can prevent you from using the trademark even if your products are different from the products offered by the trademark.
For example, you can't name your business McDonald's Electronics or Kodak Hair Salon because these two are famous trademarks.
Common Reasons The USPTO Rejects A Trademark
In some cases, the USPTO will reject a trademark. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Non-business purposes. A trademark is only for business purposes. So, make sure you're using the trademark as part of a service or good you're using for business.
- Generic. Trademarks have to be unique or distinctive. The USPTO won't allow you to register a descriptive or generic name.
- Confusion. Trademarks can't cause confusion amongst consumers. As a result, if your desired trademark is too similar to another registered trademark or a pending application, the USPTO will reject it.
- Immoral. The USPTO will reject an application if it's immoral, disparaging, or scandalous.
- Surname. You can't get a trademark if the word is also your last name or associated with it.
What Should I Do After A Trademark Application Refusal?
You can modify your application to fix it. For example, if someone already owns that trademark, you can search to find other available names.
- Chemical Products
- Paint Products
- Cosmetics and Cleaning Products
- Lubricant and Fuel Products
- Pharmaceutical Products
- Metal Products
- Machinery Products
- Hand Tool Products
- Computer and Software Products and Electrical and Scientific Products
- Medical Instrument Products
- Environmental Control Instrument Products
- Vehicles and Products for locomotion by land, air, or water
- Firearm Products
- Jewelry Products
- Musical Instrument Products
- Paper and Printed Material Products
- Rubber Products
- Leather Products
- Non-Metallic Building Material Products
- Furniture Products
- Houseware and Glass Products
- Ropes, Cordage, and Fiber Products
- Yarns and Threads
- Fabrics and Textile Products
- Clothing and Apparel Products
- Lace, Ribbons, Embroidery, and Fancy Goods
- Floor Covering Products
- Toys and Sporting Goods Products
- Meat and Processed Food Products
- Staple Food Products
- Natural Agricultural Products
- Light Beverage Products
- Wines and Spirits
- Smoker's Products
- Advertising, Business, and Retail Services
- Insurance and Financial Services
- Construction and Repair Services
- Communication Services
- Transportation and Storage Services
- Treatment and Processing of Materials Services
- Education and Entertainment Services
- Computer and Software Services and Scientific Services
- Restaurant and Hotel Services
- Medical and Beauty Services and Agricultural Services
- Personal, Legal, and Social Services
Trademark vs. Copyright vs. DBA vs. Company Name vs. Common Law Ownership vs. Service Mark
A trademark is often confused with other registered protections on a name. Therefore, it's essential to understand these differences before applying for one.
A copyright is a protection of intellectual property that applies to an original work that someone creates.
In most cases, it refers to a movie, software, literary work, or song.
Copyrights give a person or company the right to reproduce what they've created, distribute copies, and then display the work in public places.
A company name is the official title of your business.
However, trademarks can apply to more than just what you call your company.
Once you've registered your business name, it'll have protection within your state. However, it won't protect identifying features like your logo or slogan.
A DBA (Doing Business As) or trade name is for companies that want a different public name other than their official business name.
It provides no protection.
A service mark is similar to a trademark, except it's used only for companies that provide services
. In other words, it's not for products.
Finally, common-law ownership is not a registration. Instead, it happens after a company's regular use of the term or phrase.
It's Time To Trademark Your Business Name!
Now that you know how to trademark a business name, you'll have also realized that trademarking your company name is a wise move.
If you want to safeguard your brand and avoid unnecessary legal battles, all you need to do is trademark it. Of course, it helps that the process is straightforward, and the cost is nothing compared to the benefits that trademarking comes with.
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Do I need to trademark my business name?
While it's not mandatory by law, it's highly advisable.
A trademark gives you the exclusive right to use your business name nationwide in connection with the goods and services you've identified in your registration and allows you to file a lawsuit in federal court if you spot a business using your trademark name.
Are company names trademarked or copyrighted?
Usually only trademarked, but copyrighting your name is also recommendable.
A trademark protects items that define and identify a company's brand, such as the name and logo, while a copyright protects literary and artistic works.
Depending on the nature of the products you are selling or the services you are providing, you should consider both.
How do I trademark a name for free?
Unfortunately, you can't register a trademark for free. However, you can establish something known as a "common law trademark" for free simply by opening for business.
A common law trademark is a type of infringement protection for intellectual property wherein the business uses the property before it's federally registered.
How much does it cost to trademark a name?
The processing fee can fall between $225 and $600. You can also register for $50-$150 if you don't want trademark protection outside your state.
What does it cost to trademark a logo?
Same as a name: $225–$600, and only in your state, $50-$150.
When should I trademark my business name?
The earlier you get trademark registration, the better. This will help you protect your name before someone else can get it.
A good idea would be to trademark your name once you file your paperwork to create your business.
Is it free to trademark a name?
No. The USPTO charges different fees for filing a trademark, depending on some factors. Trademarking a name could cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Do I need a lawyer to register a trademark?
While you don't need a lawyer to register a trademark, some people choose to go this route. A lawyer can help with the complicated paperwork and filing procedures, though again, it's not required.
What is the difference between the ™, ℠, and ® symbols?
Registered trademarks get the ® symbol, while those not registered receive the ™ symbol. The ℠ symbol is for a service mark.
How do you trademark a logo?
You trademark a logo the same way you trademark a name. You'll file the appropriate paperwork with the USPTO and submit drawings of the logo to show its design.
Are you able to trademark a name and logo together?
Yes, you can trademark a name and logo together. However, there are some downsides to doing this, even though it's cheaper.
If you register them separately, you will receive more protection since a joint application would only protect your name and logo if used together as your application outlines.
What’s the difference between registering a trademark and registering a business?
Registering a business means obtaining a DBA ("Doing Business As") that distinguishes the company from its owners. The DBA is for legal, marketing, and promotion purposes.
A trademark, on the other hand, is to brand a business. The business uses the trademark to set itself apart from other businesses dealing with similar products.