Trademark protection: what you need to know in 2022
If applied correctly, trademarks play an essential role in protecting companies’ brands and associated goodwill.
If you’re a business owner, it’s vital to protect your trademark. A trademark is a symbol or name that identifies a product or service source.
By registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you can prevent others from using your mark without permission and sue anyone who does.
This detailed guide will teach you everything you need to know about trademark protection.
Definition of Trademark Protection
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes the products or services of one company from those of others. A trademark can be a name, logo, slogan, color, shape, sound, scent, or any combination thereof.
Trademark protection is granted to trademarks through two mechanisms: federal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and common law rights.
Federal registration is not necessary for trademark protection. However, it does provide certain benefits, such as nationwide notice of the mark and the ability to file suit in federal court.
Common law rights are based on the actual use of the mark in commerce and are limited to the geographic area where the mark is used.
Choosing a Strong Trademark
When choosing a trademark, it’s essential to consider the following factors:
Whether the trademark is distinctive: To be registered, your trademark must be able to distinguish your products from those of others. This means that it can’t be too similar to another registered mark and that it must represent some unique characteristic of your product or company.
The extent to which the trademark is used: The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. So if you plan on using your mark extensively, you’ll want to make sure that it meets all the requirements for protection.
The availability of the trademark: Not every word or symbol can be registered as a trademark, so you have to make sure your mark isn’t too similar to one already in use.
Whether the trademark consists of coined words: Trademark law allows you to protect only standard descriptive terms, so the strongest trademarks are those that are not commonly used. As a result, coined words are stronger trademarks than existing terms or phrases.
The availability of similar marks: If you choose a mark that’s too similar to another registered mark, it will be complicated, if not impossible, for both companies to conduct business under their respective trademarks without causing customer confusion and infringing on each other’s rights.
Availability of the trademark for online use: You can’t officially register your commercial domain name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so if your company’s trademark is your domain name, you should be sure that the mark isn’t already in use as a Twitter or Facebook username.
The geographical area where the mark will be used: A regional mark may not hold up if it receives national or international attention or becomes famous among consumers. More substantial marks can be used throughout the entire country and even overseas.
The goods/services with which the trademark is associated: If you try to register a mark for one class of goods and later decide to sell a product under that same mark in another class, your application will most likely be rejected because you didn’t correctly classify your goods when you first filed the trademark application.
It’s also essential to ensure your mark isn’t too similar to another company’s trademark for closely related goods.
Whether the mark has a secondary meaning: Secondary meaning is a phrase used to describe the development of a different association between a product and its trademark other than its literal definition, such as Kodak being associated with cameras or Xerox being associated with photocopiers.
To achieve secondary meaning, a trademark must acquire distinctiveness through the owner’s years of use and promotion.
The similarity in sound or appearance: If you select a trademark similar enough to another registered mark, consumers may mistakenly believe that you’re selling the same types of products using both marks, which can lead to infringement issues down the road.
Trades with similar-sounding names are associated with each other, which is why it’s important to avoid selecting trademarks that sound or look too much like your own.
After considering these factors, you can determine whether your trademark adequately distinguishes your products from those of others and whether the mark can be used in more than one geographical region without infringing on another company’s trademark rights.
Maintaining Your Trademark for Protection
A trademark is a valuable business asset, and it is vital to take steps to protect it. The best way to maintain your trademark for protection is by using it in commerce.
This means using the mark in connection with goods or services. It would be best to use the ® symbol next to the mark whenever you use it in commerce.
You can also file a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO will register your trademark and help you enforce your rights against unauthorized use of your mark.
It is vital to keep track of third-party uses of your mark and file objections when necessary. You should also consider a trusted trademark monitoring service to maintain it. With software, you can be sure that nobody uses your trademark without your permission. Automatic processes will take care of your problem better than anyone else.
Trademark Protection Length
The length of trademark protection in the United States depends on a few factors, including whether or not you apply for federal trademark protection and whether or not you use the mark in commerce.
Generally speaking, if you file for federal trademark protection and use the mark in interstate commerce, your mark will be protected for ten years.
You can renew your trademark registration every ten years after that. If you do not use the mark in interstate commerce, your mark will only be protected for five years. You can renew your trademark registration every five years after that.
Steps to File a Trademark Protection
- Determine whether you are eligible to trademark your name or logo. Your mark must be distinctive and not merely a generic term or common abbreviation to qualify for trademark protection.
- Conduct a comprehensive search of the USPTO’s trademark database to ensure that your mark is not already in use by another party.
- Apply with the USPTO, providing evidence of your mark’s distinctiveness and confirming that you are using it in commerce.
- Await a response from the USPTO examiner, who will review your application for compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
- IF YOUR APPLICATION IS APPROVED, the USPTO will issue you a trademark registration certificate.
The USPTO provides answers to many frequently asked questions about trademark registration on its website. The agency also offers an online service for tracking the status of your application.
If you have specific questions regarding your applications, you can contact a law firm specializing in trademarks to discuss filing processes and concerns.
If applied correctly, trademarks play an essential role in protecting companies’ brands and associated goodwill. However, if not protected, other businesses may capitalize on another company’s success by using confusingly similar names or logos.
Once you select your mark and begin to use it, be sure to properly maintain it with continued use and federal registration whenever possible. This will make it easier to prevent others from infringing upon your trademark and reduce the possibility of legal disputes down the road.