The Importance of Federal Trademarks for Small Businesses

Starting a business is no small feat. Along with the fiscal, mental, and emotional preparation necessary to take the first step toward opening your own venture, practical elements also come into play to ensure you are protecting your ideas and furthering the longevity of your company. You may have come up with a great idea for a new or revamped service/product. Some of your awesome friends and family may have also agreed to sow a seed in your business by giving you a few investment dollars towards expenses. Even if you aren’t that “lucky” to have investors, you possibly decided to go full throttle and throw nearly all of your life’s savings into said emerging business. With this great idea/product/service brewing in your head, money behind your goals, an equally awesome name for your business, and a logo that your former boyfriend may have drafted for you gratis as a means of atonement for being a jerk when you dated him years ago, what’s the next step?

As ownership and control of all business assets and affairs are necessary for success, the next step to continue the path of edifying your company is to register for federal trademark ownership of its name and mark/logo. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Additionally, a service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.

Here are a few things to take into consideration when determining if filing for federal trademark registration is right for you.

Why filing for a federal trademark makes sense:

  1. It prohibits others from utilizing your company name, logo, or anything confusingly similar as it may hinder your business or company operations and profits.
  2. Though filing with the USPTO is not necessary in order to have “common law” rights and ownership to your mark and name, it provides the legal presumption of ownership to others and also exclusive rights to use on a federal level; whereas common law only protects where the mark is used (i.e. – in a particular state or county).
  3. If someone attempts to serve you with a cease and desist letter for the name, logo, or mark your business uses, providing proof of your federal registration may prohibit them from seeking further retribution.

 

What to expect when filing for a federal trademark:

  1. You may hire a trademark attorney to do a thorough search of the name, mark and/or logo to ascertain if it is already in use or has already obtained federal trademark protection. The attorney will also submit the filing documents for you. When searching for an attorney, seek one who is well versed in patent and trademark law or business law. Legal fees for filing the registration can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500 depending on the experience of the attorney and how many filings are requested.
  2. Federal trademark registration requires a filing fee of anywhere between $225 to $325, for electronic filings and $375 for paper filings for each “class”.  A class is the group in which a product or service belongs to (i.e.—chemicals, clothing, wines and spirits, books, media, etc.)
  3. Trademark registration can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months for a certificate of ownership to be returned to you. During this period, an examining attorney is assigned to review the mark/logo and name filed, and make a determination as to whether or not it is already owned by someone else (in the particular class you are filing for) and/or if your potential mark/logo and name are too similar to one that already exists. You are still able to utilize your mark/logo and name while this determination is being made, and sometimes, you may even be advised to provide additional information or waive claim to certain basic words that are included in your filing.
  4. Certificates of ownership are issued on a first-come first—serve basis, as the party filing has to prove when the name or logo was first used in commerce.

Prior to launching a business or settling on a name for their purported business, I always remind clients of the importance of a search on both the state and federal level to determine if that name is already used in business by someone else. Yes, the name you came up with is catchy, and you can’t recall if someone on a previous episode of Shark Tank has already used it, but have you done a thorough search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office to see if that is the case? It would be a total bummer to build a business around a name and mark/logo, start to gather a significant following of paying clients (especially across the nation and worldwide) if someone else owns or takes the name or logo from under you. Legal battles have ensued to protect business names, marks, and logos for products and services ranging from pizza places in Pittsburgh to chocolate shops in Colorado. Basically, filing for federal trademark ownership gives you the right to stop another person or company from cramping your style.

Click here for more information regarding Federal Trademarks.

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