A trademark is a word, logo, phrase, symbol, or design used to brand and distinguish a good from all other goods. A service mark is a word, logo, phrase, symbol, or design used to brand and distinguish a service from all other services. However, people often use the term trademark to reference both. Their purpose is to protect against consumer confusion.
Trademarks vest once they’re in commercial use, so you don’t need to register a trademark in order to have one. However, registering a trademark makes it easier to enforce while offering wider protection.
If your business sells products, you may wish to register your business name for trademark as well as your products. By trademarking your business name, you brand the face of your company. If your products have a unique name, you also may opt to trademark them — if those product names meet trademark eligibility requirements. If your product name simply describes the product, then it’s unlikely to qualify for a trademark. Cars offer one example of product names that become their own brand and may warrant a trademark. Mercedes-Benz® is a company name, and its products are cars with different names and different models of each sub-brand. So while your business name and product names could match, they don’t have to do so.
Similar to a business name trademark application, which requires you to select the classes your company covers, product trademark applications ask you to select the classes your product covers — just with more specificity. You’ll need to be as detailed as possible about how you’ll use the product trademark to identify your goods.
Registering your business name for a trademark offers several key benefits. Specifically, it helps you:
- Prevent Confusion: The main purpose of trademarks is to prevent consumer confusion. Your business name — as well as how you present it alongside your logo, brand colors, slogans, or tagline — can set you apart from other businesses in your industry.
- Define Your Brand: As previously noted, your business name becomes a major part of your company’s identity. It defines your brand, including what people think and feel when they hear your business name. A business name that leads to strong branding helps create loyal customers and new opportunities for growth. It not only tells customers what to expect from you, but also helps differentiate you from competitors.
- Avoid or Bring Legal Action: Registering your business name for a trademark allows you to prevent others from using the same or a similar business name within your industry. This helps avoid legal action by putting others on notice when you register your business name for trademark. However, if someone infringes on your trademark, you may take any legal action related to your trademark to federal court.
- Protect Sales: Registering your business name for a trademark protects your sales by preventing consumer confusion. For example, if another company uses the same or a similar name to yours and sells a similar product, customers might think they’re buying from you instead of your competitors.
- Boost National Recognition: Because a trademark provides national protection, it also provides national recognition. Once you register your business name, you put others on notice of your existing brand.
- Secure Funding: If you seek additional funding for your business, a trademark can encourage investors to consider your company because its helps to prove ownership. In some cases, investors may require you to obtain a trademark before investing in your business.
While it’s fairly easy to apply for a trademark, you should still consult an attorney. An attorney can help you with a more thorough search of the same or similar names, filling out the often technical and confusing application, and staying on top of your application.
The three basic steps involved in a trademark application include:
- Searching the Trademark Database
- Filing Your Application
- Staying On Top of Your Application
Search the Trademark Database
Before applying to register your business name for a trademark, you must first search the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database for all registered trademarks. In addition, you should search beyond that database to ensure no other company currently uses your business name with an unregistered trademark. You can conduct this secondary search by using an internet search engine, researching domain databases like GoDaddy or Name.com, and checking with your local government and state database for all registered business names. An attorney can help you conduct a thorough search beyond the USPTO’s database.
File Your Trademark Application
After completing your research to ensure no other company currently uses your preferred business name, you must then prepare and submit your application. You may wish to consult an attorney to ensure your application contains no mistakes and to help you meet filing deadlines and any other important dates.
Stay on Top of Your Application
After filing your trademark application, you should respond to any feedback from the USPTO in a timely manner. An examiner may request corrections to your application, additional documents, or answers to additional questions. The submission of your application initiates a 30-day period in which other parties may contest your trademark if they believe it would infringe on their existing trademark and cause confusion. If a party files an opposition to your application, you’ll need to work with the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to address and resolve the issue.
Registering your business name for a trademark isn’t required in order for you to have trademark rights. However, a registered trademark can provide greater protection for your brand while helping you build your brand and drive business growth.