While anybody with the financial resources can start a business, only a small fraction of start-ups remain viable 15-20 years down the road. Business-owners that succeed in today’s economy tend to earn a reputation for quality, honestly, and excellence. It’s not easy to build a trusted brand and—frighteningly—it can be lost in a matter of minutes if it’s not trademarked.
To the public-eye, a business’s reputation is linked to its name. For this reason, your business name is among your most valuable assets. If your reputation is important to you, then you must consider trademarking your business name. The time, money, and effort spent on building your trusted brand could be lost if another businessowner—either by-accident or purposefully—trademarks your name.
Is my Business Already Trademarked?
This may seem like a silly question, but when business-owners first open their doors, they’re usually required to register their new company with the state. It’s easy to think that registering with the state establishes trademark protections, but it does not.
State-registration simply allows you to do business within that state’s boundaries. In some instances, state-registration will offer weaker state-wide trademark rights, but these shouldn’t be relied upon. If you’re unsure if your business name is trademarked, it’s likely not. Business-owners serious about protecting their brand will want to file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The Significance of Trademarking with the USPTO
Filing with the USPTO is the first step to obtaining strong, internationally-recognized trademark protections. According to the government website, the advantages of a USPTO trademark are seven-fold:
- It creates a legal presumption that you are the sole owner of the mark
- It gives you exclusive rights to use your mark nationwide, as opposed to statewide
- It lists your business mark in the USPTO master database, so that other business-owners will know of the existence of your trademark and will avoid selecting a mark that is too similar
- If you decide to record your trademark with the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection, it can prevent importation of infringing or counterfeit foreign goods under your name
- It legally gives you the right to contest (in federal court) the misuse of your mark
- If gives you the ability to apply for a trademark in a number of foreign countries
- It allows you to use the official USPTO Registered Trademark Symbol (the enclosed “R”, or the “R” in the small circle) on your logo or name, signifying to others that your name is trademarked, and you have the exclusive rights to it
Remember, registering your business name with the USPTO certainly isn’t required. However, the USPTO federal trademark greatly enhances a business-owner’s rights, protections, and autonomy over their brand name.
How to File an Application
Today, filing a trademark application with the USPTO is done completely online and the process is fairly painless. The electronic documents take 1-2 hours to fill out, and the cost for registration is usually around $300. Most trademark lawyers believe this is a relatively small amount of time and money for the strong legal protections gained in-return.
Although the process is easy, there’s no guarantee that the USPTO will grant your requested trademark. If your request is denied, you’ll receive a letter from the USPTO (called an Office action) that specifies the details of the rejection. In these instances, you’ll need to consult a trademark lawyer (or perhaps a lawyer that has experience with general intellectual property). An experienced attorney will help draft a response to the USPTO and determine your next steps.
Dealing With an Application Denial
There are a few reasons why the USPTO may deny your application. First and foremost, your requested name cannot already be taken by another business. Before completing an application, you may want to check the USPTO master database to see which names have already been trademarked. If you see that your name is taken, you should contact a lawyer for advice. It’s also worth noting that requested names that are “too similar” to an already-trademarked name may also be denied.
Likewise, not only do names need to be distinctive, the USPTO can deny your application if your requested name is overly generic or descriptive.
If, for any reason, your application is denied or contested by the USPTO, consulting an attorney is your best option. An attorney will help decipher the jargon of the Office action and, if you decide to contest, will aid in building your case. After all, the alternatives include changing your business name and/or continuing-on without trademark protections, either of which could have severe consequences for your general operations.