Trademark and Protect Your Logo, Name, or Tagline

Once you have a company or product name, a logo, or even a tagline that you want to protect, you’ll want to file for a trademark or service mark. Here’s a step-by-step guide to protecting your trademark.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

Don’t confuse a trademark with copyrights or patents. They all differ. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

Registration of your name or mark is not required. You can establish rights based on legitimate use of the name or logo. However, owning a federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides several advantages:

  • Constructive notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership
  • Legal presumption of the registrant's ownership and the registrant's exclusive right to use the name or logo nationwide on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the registration
  • The ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court
  • The use of the U.S registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries
  • The ability to file the U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods

What about the trademark symbols TM, SM and ®?
Any time you claim rights in a name or mark, you may use the "TM" (trademark) or "SM" (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO. However, you may use the federal registration symbol "®" only after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending. Also, you may use the registration symbol with the mark only on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the federal trademark registration.

Filing an application
The easiest way to file a trademark application is to use the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). By filing online, you’ll get:

  • On-line Help. Hyper-links provide help sections for each of the application fields.
  • Validation Function. Helps avoid the possible omission of important information.
  • Immediate Reply. The USPTO immediately issues an initial filing receipt via e-mail containing the assigned application serial number and a summary of the submission.
  • 24 Hour Availability. TEAS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except 11 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday), so receipt of a filing date is possible up until midnight EST.

Performing a Trademark Search
Before filing your application, you should search the USPTO database to determine whether anyone is already claiming trademark rights to a particular name or mark. You may conduct a search online for free via the TESS e Biz (Trademark Electronic Search System) database. If your mark includes a design element, you will need to search it by using a design code. To locate the proper design code(s), consult the online Design Search Code Manual. If your search yields a name or a mark that you think might conflict with yours, you should check its status via the TARR e Biz (Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval) database. You will need the serial number or registration number of a particular mark to access information on TARR.

Identification of Goods and Services
The next step is to draft a description of goods and/or services. A trademark application is incomplete without a statement identifying the goods and/or services with which the mark is used or will be used. The identification of goods and/or services must be specific enough to identify the nature of the goods and/or services. The level of specificity depends on the type of goods and/or services. For examples of acceptable identifications, consult the Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual.

Protecting Your Logo or Mark
Another consideration is the depiction of your logo or mark. Every application must include a clear representation of the mark you want to register. The USPTO uses this representation to file the mark in their search records and to print the mark in the Official Gazette and on the registration certificate. There are two possible mark formats: (1) standard character format definition; or (2) stylized definition or design format. The standard character format should be used to register word(s), letter(s), number(s) or any combination thereof, without claim to any particular font style, size, or color, and absent any design element. Registration of a mark in the standard character format will provide broad rights, namely use in any manner of presentation. The stylized or design format, on the other hand, is appropriate if you wish to register a mark with a design element or word(s) or letter(s) having a particular stylized appearance that you wish to protect. The two types of mark formats cannot be mixed in one mark; do not submit a representation of a mark that attempts to combine a standard character format and a stylized or design format.

Filing a Trademark Application
You may file your trademark application online using TEAS e Biz - the Trademark Electronic Application System. TEAS allows you to fill out an application form and check it for completeness, and then submit the application directly to the USPTO over the internet. You can pay by credit card, through an existing USPTO deposit account, or via electronic funds transfer.

If you file an application online through TEAS, you will receive a summary of the filing by e-mail and your application will be assigned an immediate serial number.

All future correspondence with the USPTO must include this serial number. You should receive a response to your application from the USPTO within five to six months from filing the application. However, the total time for an application to be processed may be anywhere from almost a year to several years, depending on the basis for filing, and the legal issues which may arise in the examination of the application.

You may monitor the progress of your application through the TARR database.

For more information, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

If this still seems overwhelming, or if you simply don’t have the time or motivation for this type of work, consider allowing to do it for you. Visit our Coaching page for more information on Do-It-For-Me (DIFM) Branding Coaching.