When running a successful company, you don’t want to lose customers and have your reputation damaged because someone might copy your name and offer subpar services and products. Moreover, you also want to protect the intellectual property that you’ve worked hard to develop. With that in mind, you might be thinking about getting a trademark for your brand. If that is the case, here is the ultimate trademark guide that will help you ensure no one is abusing your business’s success.
What is a trademark?
For starters, you need to understand what a trademark is. A trademark is a word, phrase, or symbol that is easily recognizable and associated with a company. It is typically the name of a business or the logo that represents a company or denotes a specific product. Trademarks are used to differentiate a product or service from similar ones and acknowledge the owner. There are registered and unregistered trademarks, denoted by the ® and ™ symbols, respectively. It’s also important to note that trademarks can provide protection only within a certain country but they can also be international. Something else to keep in mind is that trademarks differ from patents and copyrights.
Types of trademarks
When it comes to types of trademarks, you should know that there are a few. For one, you can trademark a word – the name of your business. An example here would be globally recognized names such as Nike, Apple, and McDonald’s as well as product names like iPhone and Big Mac. On the other hand, there are also trademarks which have been genericized over time such as Frisbee, Google, Chapstick, and Fiberglass. Some trademarks that become used in everyday speech might even lose their legal status.
Then, there are logo trademarks, which use images to represent a business. Just like Nike or Apple have their signature logos protected, you could also think about filing for a trademark for your company’s logo if it’s something unique. Moreover, there is the combination of a logo and words. Additionally, even colors that are a part of your overall logo could be trademarked. Think about the iconic blue that Tiffany & Co. uses.
Deciding if a trademark makes sense for the company
Once you’ve learned more about trademarks, it’s time to decide if getting a trademark makes sense for your company. It’s simply a fact that trademarks are not necessary for all lines of work. What is more, it’s also important to think about how important branding is to your business.
By registering a trademark, you are telling the world that they can expect a particular kind of quality from your products and services. Furthermore, it gives you protection in the area where you file for a trademark, stops others from using your trademark, and allows you to sue other parties for damages.
Finding out if a company is eligible for trademark protection
When you are certain that you want to apply for a trademark, you should also check if you are eligible for trademark protection. You want something unique that sets you apart and that you can actually protect. Like Nike trademarked its name in block lettering and the swoosh symbol and The Simpsons trademarked Homer’s “D’OH!”, you need to think about what can help customers identify your brand. Even your name can be trademarked, as can be seen from Vera Wang and Louis Vuitton.
Moreover, if you work in a few states or countries, you could also be eligible for a trademark to avoid confusion with other companies with the same or similar name. However, you need to bear in mind that some words that are too generic cannot be trademarked. For instance, tea, water, or bread are probably not eligible for protection.
Performing a trademark search
The next step on your journey to a trademark is checking if such a trademark already exists. While you are thinking about preventing others from infringing on your rights, you might not be considering the possibility of you doing the same to another business. With that in mind, it’s important to do some research to see if anyone has already registered a company name or logo that you want to trademark.
To avoid getting sued, you should perform a trademark search in the relevant areas. You can start by doing an internet search of your name and those that sound similar and then check with the trademark register in charge for your country or territory. If you’re not sure how to do this on your own, it’s best to turn to experienced IP lawyers that will check the trademark register for you and ensure you are within your rights. If it turns out that someone else is already using the phrase or logo you wanted to trademark, the attorneys can also advise you on how to proceed.
Registering for a trademark
In case the trademark is not being used, you can start the process of registering your trademark. Acting on time is vital here as you don’t want someone else to register the trademark right under your nose. Start by looking into the regulatory body in your region and deciding on the application that suits you best. Fill out the application carefully and correctly. Once again, if you’re unsure about how to fill in the application, you can look for expert help that will ensure you don’t overlook anything important.
Finalizing the application
Keep in mind that your application will not be approved overnight and can take up to 12 months. Remember to check on it at least once a month by looking up your reference number. Perhaps more information will be needed so it’s essential that you don’t miss any deadlines. You will be required to provide a statement of use in order to be granted a trademark registration, so make sure you do it on time and have a lawyer check it before submitting.
How long does a trademark last?
When it comes to how long your trademark will last, it actually depends on where you register for one. For instance, in Australia and most European countries, a trademark is protected for an initial period of 10 years and it can be renewed every ten years. On the other hand, in the USA, you will have to file a declaration of continued use after six years to prove you’re still using your trademark in order to be able to renew it after 10 years.
What do to if someone is infringing on a trademark?
Lastly, it’s also crucial to know what your options are if someone is infringing on your trademark. An infringement includes any unauthorized use of your trademark, whether it’s a name, logo, slogan, color, or sound.
First, you want to get in touch with the other party and send them a cease-and-desist letter with screenshots of them using your trademark. If they continue to use it, you should look for legal help and decide on your next action. You can consider some sort of settlement or taking them to court but it’s always best to first consult with experts in the field to see what can be done.
From ensuring you are eligible for a trademark and making sure you aren’t infringing on someone else’s trademark to registering for one, there are many areas to cover. If you find yourself out of your depth, don’t hesitate to turn to professionals.