When to Register a Trademark

As individuals, we take a number of steps to protect ourselves, such as buying health, car and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. As a business owner, are you taking the necessary steps to protect your business and its assets? Business owners often don’t think of their company name, product or service names as an asset, but they often are.

One way to protect these names is to register a trademark. A trademark is one of three legal terms used to describe “intellectual property,” the others being patent and copyright. Whereas patents and copyrights are basically used to protect the commercial rights of inventors and creators of artistic or literary works, respectively, the basic concept behind a trademark or service mark is to prevent unfair competition.

Although registration is not mandatory for trademark protection, trademarks on the USPTO Principal Register receive significantly stronger protection than unregistered or “common-law” marks. Advantages of that protection, as defined by the USPTO, include:

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

Only after the USPTO has granted your trademark “registered” status are you permitted to use the federal registration symbol, which is ®, which signifies that your mark is listed on the USPTO Principal Register and protected nationally from use by others. This process generally takes 10-12 months from time of application to confirmation of acceptance, and use of the ® is not permitted during this time. The ™ and SM symbols, for trademark and service mark respectively, are used instead while a USPTO application is pending, just as they are for state-registered and common-law marks.

Once registered by the USPTO, the mark can be renewed indefinitely. Current regulations require renewal of a trademark every 10 years.

The USPTO only grants trademarks within the United States. There are patent and trademark agencies in other countries throughout the world that grant registered trademarks offering similar advantages to owners of trademarks used in international trade.

Keep in mind, as you are choosing your company, product and service names and/or logos that the more unique and descriptive they are, the better your chance of being granted a registered trademark on that term or design.

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