Frequently Asked Questions about Trademarks
What exactly is a trademark?
A trademark is a unique mark or design, which can include words, names, logos, symbols, colors or creative ways of spelling or stylizing more common words. Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish a brand or company. Consumers usually associate a certain level of quality in the product or services offered by a company with their respective trademark.
What does it mean to register a trademark?
Trademark registration is a process and status where an individual or company lists themselves as the legal creator and rightful owner of their particular mark (i.e. name, logo, design). This status allows the owner exclusive use of their mark and protects their brand against unauthorized use by providing a legal course of action, including the award of monetary damages, against others who have used their mark without authorization. It's also designed to protect the general public/consumers by eliminating possible confusion with the use of similar marks in the same market place. Trademark registration offers federal or national protection, beyond the limited protection or benefits offered when registering your business with just your respective state.
Why should I legally register my mark?
Without trademark registration it is more difficult to prove that you are the rightful owner of a particular mark and therefore, it is equally as difficult to obtain any relief against those that may have used your mark without authorization. Particularly, while you may be able to stop someone from continued use of your mark, you are not entitled to any financial relief or monetary damages against someone who has been found in violation of your trademark without proper registration. Additionally, trademark registration is designed to prevent others from profiting off of your established name, hard work and investments. It further reduces the risk of damaging or watering down your brand reputation via association of your mark with products and services that don't meet your standard of quality. More importantly, in the worse case scenario, the failure to register your trademark could result in a loss of the ability to utilize the mark at all. The registered owner of a trademark is presumed to be the legitimate owner of the mark. Overcoming that presumption is difficult and sometimes unsuccessful.
How soon should I register?
You should register your mark as soon as possible! You can even register your mark before you begin using it. As previously mentioned, it does not serve you well to wait to register because investing money and time in a mark with no surety that the mark is available and yours to use is not good business and could result in a significant loss of money or even worse, a lawsuit for infringing upon someone else's registered trademark.
Can I register my trademark by myself?
Certainly. However, without the benefit of someone experienced in the process and with the available resources that could increase the probability of securing your trademark registration, you may find the process quite daunting, lengthy and far more expensive than needed. For each time your application is denied or challenged at some part of the process this generally results in additional fees, more time, and in some cases the need to start the entire process from scratch. Hiring an attorney to assist in the process allows you to focus on your business and invest time in other initiatives. An attorney can assist with making rather complicated and complex concepts easier to understand. They can also counsel you in the beginning stages so that you know what to expect and advise of any adjustments that could strengthen your mark and therefore, your success in registering. As issues arise, which is rather common through this multi step process, they can assist with your responses to the UPTO.
How long does the entire process take?
It is important to understand that the process of obtaining a trademark from the USPTO is not one that happens overnight and in fact, could take up to two years, barring any issues or setbacks throughout the process. The initial application is usually the easiest and quickest stage of the process but requires attention to detail. Once the application is submitted the entire process usually takes at least nine months but often can go longer, depending upon errors, complexity of your mark, any challenges to your request and your own timeliness and efficiency in responding to requests from the office. After your trademark is registered it is good for 10 years from your application date and you can renew as frequently as you like.
Can you guarantee that I once I apply I will be approved?
Even when exercising extreme care and completing extensive searches to determine whether there are any names, marks or designs similar to what you are attempting to register already in use within your marketplace, the USPTO completes an even more rigorous search and at some point will publish your mark for others to see and respond with an objection. As such, there are no guarantees that your application will be accepted or approve, however, an attorney can counsel you regarding ways to strengthen your mark and application and can assist with responding to any objections or inquiries throughout your application process.