This article covers the important facts you need to know about how to register a trademark to protect your commercial rights to your product or company’s brand. A trademark is used by a company to help customers identify and distinguish their goods from their competitors. A service mark is used like a trademark to identify and distinguish services. The term “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks. Trademarks can be any combination of words, letters, and numerals. They can consist of drawings or symbols. They can even be three-dimensional such as the shape of a product’s packaging. Vocal sounds or music or can also be trademarked.
Trademarks and Service Marks
The United States Patent and Trademark Office allows three possible trademark formats: (1) standard character format; (2) stylized/design format; or a (3) sound mark. The standard character format is used to register word(s), letter(s), number(s) or any combination thereof, without claim to any particular font style, size, or color, and absent any design element. This format gives you the broadest rights. The stylized/design format, on the other hand, is appropriate if you wish to register a mark with a design element and/or word(s) and/or letter(s) having a particular stylized appearance that you wish to protect. This format will narrow your trademark rights to that specific design.
Whenever you submit a trademark application you need to identify the goods and/or services to which the mark will apply, clearly and precisely. This is done by selecting from the 45 trademark classes that have been established by the International (Nice) Classification of Goods and Services. In some countries, you are not required to file a trademark application in order to establish ownership rights to a trademark.
You can obtain proprietary rights to the trademark by simply using it in the marketplace. In these cases, you usually use the symbol TM to denote that it is an unregistered trademark or a the symbol SM for an unregistered service mark. A registered trademark is denoted it by placing a an “R” surrounded by a circle. Getting a registered trademark is always preferable. In some countries such as Germany, your product or service would have to have at least 40% market share to be able to sue for infringement on an unregistered trademark. Certain countries and regions do not even recognize trademarks rights arising through use. In these areas, rights to the trademark are given to the first entity that files for the trademark rather than the first one to use it in the marketplace.
After getting a registered trademark, your company has the exclusive right to use it to identify your goods or services. If you so desire, you can authorize someone else the right to use your trademark in return for payment. You can apply for a registered trademark for use in a particular country or a region such as the European Union. An application for registration of a trademark must be filed with the appropriate national or regional trademark office. If you want even broader protection, you can file a trademark application with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This allows you to get trademark protection in over 92 countries including the United States, the European Union, China, Japan, and most of the major countries in the world.
Before applying for a registered trademark it is a good idea to do a trademark search to determine if there are any registered or pending trademarks that would prevent your trademark from being registered. You can conduct a search of US trademarks online for free at the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website. Three types of searches are available. One is a simple word trademark search. A second option is a structured word and/or design trademark search. When you do this type of search you need to look up the relevant design codes. The third type of search is a free form word and/or design trademark search. Now you’re getting really complicated since you are using codes, Boolean logic and multiple search fields. In summary, there is no harm in your doing a preliminary trademark search. However, it’s a lot more complicated than you think. As a result, in the end you will probably have to have a patent and trademark attorney do a professional search.
While we are talking about hiring attorneys to help with your trademark, please note that you’re not required to have one to file a trademark application. However, I would recommend that you use one in order to ensure that a thorough and professional search of registered, pending and unregistered trademarks is conducted before you file your application. A good patent and trademark attorney can also help you with the application process to make sure that you get the best trademark protection possible. They can also be very helpful if you have to respond to a refusal to register your trademark from the US Patent and Trademark Office. An attorney is also indispensable if you need to go after another company that is infringing on your trademark.
When filing for a US trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office it is less costly to file electronically using their “TEAS” (Trademark Electronic Application System). The regular application fee for a trademark covering one class of goods or services will run you $375 if you do it by mail and $325 if you do it via the internet. Your application fee goes down to $275 if you qualify to file a TEAS Plus trademark application. To qualify, you must select a class of goods or service from the USPTO’s Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual. Customized entries are not allowed. You also have to submit your application electronically and do all your correspondence with United States Patent and Trademark Office by email.
Once your registered trademark or service mark is secured it needs to be renewed every ten years to maintain it. The current fee for renewing a trademark is $400. Trademarks can be a very valuable asset, especially if you have a business that has a well established trademarked brand. A trademark can be sold outright or licensed to a person or a business. If you are contemplating selling or licensing your trademark, IntellectualPropertyStore.com is an excellent website for accomplishing this goal. When you place a listing on this site, you can use narratives, pictures and movies to pitch the commercial marketability of your trademarked product or service. This is a very powerful and timesaving way to either sell it outright or to license it. All franchises have a registered trademark that establishes their brand and unique identity. If you already have a franchise business or if you are considering franchising, NewBusinessMarket.com is an excellent website to list your franchise opportunity to potential franchisees. There are thousands of people looking for franchise opportunities on this website.