By registering for U.S. Federal Trademark protection, trademark owners are eligible for numerous benefits such as treble damages in some cases of infringement, the right to use the ® in your trademark, and a streamlined process for securing your domains and usernames at social sites like facebook, twitter, and youtube.
Do you ever wonder what will prevent another company from using your business name? How about if you’re legally permitted to use the name you picked for your business? Or do you know when you can use the TM symbol with your brand or product name?
Assembled here are all the answers to the most frequently asked questions when it comes to trademarking. If you’re a small business owner, read on to learn more about the trademark, and most importantly, if you need one for your business.
Question: What is a trademark?
Answer: A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design (or a combination of any of these) that identifies the source of a product or service and distinguishes it from competitors.
Question: What can be trademarked?
Answer: Trademark registration can be granted on distinctive names, logos and slogans. You might want to seek a trademark for a product name, company name, company logo, or tagline.
For example, “Nike”, the Nike swoosh design, and “Just Do It” are all trademarks owned by Nike to distinguish their products from other athletic companies. But keep in mind that trademark protection only applies to a particular category of goods and services. Nike Inc. may own the mark on a variety of shoes, clothing, sporting goods, etc. But there’s also a Nike Corporation in Sweden that’s involved in heavy machinery, like hydraulic lifting jacks.
Question: What’s the difference between a registered and unregistered trademark?
Answer: Trademarks don’t actually have to be registered with the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office). If your company creates a logo or name that you want to use exclusively, you can attach the TM symbol and this essentially gives you “common law” rights.
However, trademarks that are registered with the USPTO enjoy stronger brand protection (see “What are the benefits of registering a trademark?” below)
Also keep in mind that in order to claim first use to a name, the name has to be “trademarkable” (i.e. not already in use by someone else) and needs to be in use in commerce. For example, if you think of a cool company name, you will need to actively market and sell a product or service using that company name for your common law trademark to be valid.
Question: How do I know if a name is available for me to use for my company, product, or service?
Answer: Before you incorporate or register your business with your state, you’ll need to check the state’s database of company names and make sure the name you want isn’t already in use. Name conflicts are one of the main reasons many LLC, corporation, or DBA applications get rejected. At this point, you should also conduct a free trademark search to check if your business name is available to use at the federal level.
It’s also important to know that you can still infringe on someone else’s mark even if they’ve never formally registered it with the USPTO. For this reason, you should also run a comprehensive nationwide trademark search into state and local databases (beyond just your own state). This should include common law and county registrars.
Question: When should I or can I use the trademark symbol? And what’s the difference between TM and ®?
Answer: Before you have registered a trademark with the USPTO, you may use the TM symbol. After a trademark is registered with the USPTO, you have the right to use ® in your trademark. Many companies choose to use the TM or ® symbol with the first appearance of the company or product name in a document, and then drop the symbol for each appearance after that.
Question: What are the benefits of registering a trademark?
Answer: By registering for U.S. Federal Trademark protection, you’ll be eligible for several benefits, including: