Developing a brand and building brand equity takes investments in time, effort, and money. You don’t want to lose all your work and have to start over from the beginning because you skipped a critical first step in brand development–trademark your brand.
A trademark is a designation of ownership provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It can be applied to a unique name, word, symbol, phrase, or other element which is used to identify a business, product or service provided by a specific seller from others offered in the same industry by other sellers (and sometimes across industries). For example, the AT&T name and globe logo design are both properties of the AT&T company. Other technology logos cannot look like AT&T.
1. If you own a trademark, no one else can use your property without your consent or in violation of your explicit usage terms.
2. Trademarks prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace. For example, it would be very confusing to know which company you’re buying from if there were two McDonald’s operating in the fast food industry.
You can trademark several elements of your brand identity, including your logo design, brand names, taglines, and packaging. However, those elements have to be unique and non-generic in order for the trademark to be issued. For example, you can’t trademark a generic name like “tissues” to sell actual tissues, but a unique name like “Kleenex” did get a one. You need to be unique and unlike any other name in your industry in order to get one.
Furthermore, you cannot trademark a business or brand name or other brand identity element unless you can prove that element is being used in commerce. For example, you need to provide evidence of use to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the form of advertising, a website, or other commercially used material. If you’re not actually using the element you’re trying to trademark, you can submit a trademark request with an “intent to use” but you will have to provide evidence of use in commerce at some point in the future or you’ll lose the trademark.
It is actually quite simple to complete the paperwork to request a trademark. Of course, there are websites and attorneys who can help you, but if you don’t want to spend anything above the unavoidable trademark fees, you can do it yourself by visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website at www.uspto.gov and completing the online forms.
Before you spend time and money completing the application forms, conduct a trademark search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to make sure no one else already owns the element you want to trademark in your industry or similar industries.
It’s best to secure a federal trademark rather than a state trademark, simply because it offers your business more protection. You can also get an international trademark, but this is far more confusing, and hiring an international trademark attorney is worth it in this instance.
Keep in mind, securing a trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can take months. Make sure you do your due diligence and submit a trademark application for a mark you’re certain is unique and not already used in a similar way within your industry (or industries where you might do business in the future). The last thing you want to do is begin using your name, logo, or brand identity elements only to learn a few months later that your trademark application was denied.