Running your own business can be a major challenge for even the smallest of operations. As a small business owner, you are acutely aware of the many demands on your time and money, including the legal issues, big and small, that occasionally appear. You cannot avoid these issues because ignoring them may cost you even more time and money in the long run. One major question you may have is whether to trademark your business name or logo. Understanding the basics will help you make this decision.
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What is a trademark?
A trademark can define and protect the marks that constitute your business’ brand. These can include:
- Words or phrases
These types of marks, including others not listed above, are what distinguishes your business from others. When you have a trademark, you are asking your customers to recognize your brand because of a specific symbol, color, writing, or picture.
While most businesses have some kind of trademark, many do not take the extra step to register the trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademark registration demonstrates that the USPTO recognizes the registrant as the rightful owner of the trademark, unless a challenger proves otherwise, which can be difficult to do.
If someone uses your registered trademark, you will have a much easier time taking legal action to get them to stop. You can turn to the registration to help prove essential facts that may protect your rights if there is ever a question about who owns or used the mark first.
Is it necessary to trademark your business name?
Your brand is a valuable business asset. While you do not have to register your trademark, it may be a good idea. Here are several benefits to registering your trademark as a small business.
You ensure that you can use the name or logo that you want to use.
As part of the registration process, you conduct a search for the business name or logo that you want to use for your business. You will conduct that search in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database of registered trademarks, which will tell you if there are other businesses using the same or similar marks.
The search process may seem tedious, but going through this extra step may help you avoid violating other registered trademarks.
You keep others from profiting off of your trademark.
When you register your trademark, you increase legal protections for your business name or other business marks. These protections apply regardless of whether the illegal use was intentional or merely an accident or mistake.
Those who wrongfully use your business name, for example, can decrease your profits, harm your reputation, confuse your customers, and more. Taking legal action against these businesses can help you recover damages if you face any financial losses. It can also prevent future losses if you are able to stop others from continuing to use your business name as their own.
It’s easier to prove that the mark belongs to you.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will determine who was the first to use a trademark if there is any legal dispute. The company with a registered trademark will have the upper hand in a dispute with someone who does not. This is because the USPTO will presume that the owner of a registered trademark has superior rights.
However, keep in mind that the business that used the trademark in commerce first actually has superior rights, and if they can prove their date of first use is before the other party’s date of registration, they may very well succeed in proving they have superior rights. Proving first use, however, can be difficult, and this is one of the reasons why registration is recommended.
You show the public that you own the mark.
If you register your trademark, you can put a small symbol that looks like an R with a circle around it next to your name, logo, or other mark.
This type of symbol shows everyone that you have not only registered your trademark, but you are ready to defend it.
You have nationwide trademark protection.
States often require that you register your business name with the Secretary of State or a similar entity. However, that registration shows only that you operate in that state—it does not protect your brand if used in another state.
When you register your trademark, you may acquire legal protection throughout the United States, not just in your jurisdiction.
When should you trademark your business name?
You do not have to register your trademark, but it may be a good idea. Registering your trademark may be especially important if:
- Your business operates in several states.
- Your business is successful and you have concerns about others stealing or inappropriately using its name.
- Your name is very unique.
- Your business name may be considered similar to that of another business and you want to avoid any future disputes.
Registering your trademark takes a little bit of time and money, but it could save you thousands of dollars by avoiding a legal dispute down the road.
So when is the right time to register a trademark? There is no easy answer to this question because the “right time” depends on your particular business and the industry within which you operate. A trademark lawyer can help you determine the best strategy for the timing of your registration and first use in commerce.
Do I need a lawyer to register my trademark?
U.S. citizens do not need to use an attorney to register their trademark. However, you may want to get some additional help to ensure your registration goes smoothly and you are following the right process. Rocket Lawyer Trademark Services can help you with the entire process. Our knowledgeable staff and lawyers are ready to answer your questions and get your trademark registered at a reasonable price. If you need answers to specific trademark questions, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for fast and affordable advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.