You’ve put a lot of effort into designing a logo that perfectly represents your brand to the world.
Whether you used an automated logo maker, hired a designer, or designed it yourself, you (hopefully) have a logo you love and are ready to show off.
But, you also need to protect your hard work from shameless thieves who piggyback off other people’s ideas. By registering your brand logo with a trademark, the law will be on your side should anything terrible happen.
If you’re confused about trademark law or just want to know how to trademark your brand logo, keep reading! We’ll break it all down in easy-to-read, bite-sized pieces of info.
A trademark is a design, word, phrase, symbol, or logo (or a combination of these things) that identifies your business. It is a recognizable mark which differentiates your business from others in the market.
The word “trademark” refers to goods, and a service mark is used for services.
A trademark signals to others that it is your intellectual property of which you have the exclusive rights to. Intellectual property refers to the ownership of any creation, idea, or design by the person who came up with it.
More than just claiming your rights to it, a trademark prevents others from copying (or worse) stealing your logo.
Now here’s where it gets a little tricky.
Simply using your logo in everyday business activities automatically entitles you to a common right law. But it does not protect you from someone else using a near identical name or design as yours- only registering a trademark does.
Let’s say you use a logo as a trademark for the homemade soy candles you sell in your neighborhood. As your business grows, you would want to consider applying for a federal registration to more broadly protect your trademark.
You don’t have to trademark your logo, but there are advantages to doing so. The long-term benefits will not only protect you but can also help you establish a global brand presence.
Here are the main reasons to trademark your logo:
Priority: By registering your logo as a trademark, you have the priority to use it. So, let’s say there is someone in your geographic area who wants to use a similar logo. There’s not much you can do to prevent them from doing so- except to register your trademark.
Law: Having a trademark attached to your logo enables you to take legal action against anyone who uses your design without permission. While I hope it never happens to you, if you do take someone to court for trademark infringement, the law is on your side.
Money: Again, hopefully it never happens to you, but if you do sue someone for trademark infringement, a registered trademark entitles you to collect money for damages.
Foreign Market: Having your logo trademarked in the U.S. allows you to register your trademark in foreign countries. This is important as it prohibits foreign imports that might infringe upon your trademark.
Not all trademarks are created equal.
A strong mark is one that is highly distinctive. This is important because it immediately identifies you as the owner of the goods or services. The stronger the trademark, the easier it will be to register.
Weak trademarks, on the other hand, are hardly distinctive, and thus more difficult to defend in the application process. The different types of marks discussed below range in order from the strongest to the weakest…
Fanciful trademarks are made-up words. The word holds no other meaning aside from its relation to the good or service the business provides. Think about it this way: If you look up the word ‘Adidas’ in the dictionary, it doesn’t exist. That’s because the sneaker and athleisure brand invented the word!
Arbitrary trademarks are actual words that have no correlation with the good or service of the business. Consider tech-giant Apple. The popular fruit has absolutely no association with the goods the company Apple provides.
Suggestive trademarks hint at the type of product or service provided, but does not quite reveal it outright. Let’s take the Jaguar Car company. The trademark gives the impression that driving a Jaguar vehicle will be as fast as a big cat.
Descriptive trademarks describe some aspect of a good or service, such as its quality, characteristics, function or purpose, without distinguishing it in any tangible way. Sure, a retailer that sells teddy bears could call themselves “cute”, but Build-A-Bear Workshop is a much more effective mark.
Generic trademarks are the general name for your goods or services. If you are a candle making business and attempt to trademark the word “candle”, there’s a very good chance it will be rejected. After all, the purpose of a trademark is to differentiate your brand from another in the market, and if everyone in the candle-making business trademarked “candle” then customers would be pretty confused.
OK, so you’ve made the decision to trademark your logo.
Now you have to consider which of the different levels of trademark protection you want for your logo. The level of protection determines the cost as well as the scope of your rights.
Here are the different types of trademark protection:
The first level of trademark protection is local (also referred to as “common law”).
If you have not filed for registration, you own the common rights to your logo as soon as you begin using the trademark in everyday business transactions. You are automatically entitled to rights the first time you sell an item with your logo on it.
However, the extent of protection is restricted to your local area. This means your trademark rights are only protected within the particular location you are using it.
So that logo for the homemade soy candles you sell in your neighborhood can only be enforced in that specific area.
Registering your trademark within a U.S. state offers protection only in that specific state. If your business expands across state borders where your trademark is not registered, it is no longer protected. Any protection stops at state lines.
Your soy candle business is booming in your hometown in Georgia and you want to try selling in Florida. It is then your responsibility to prevent other candle businesses in Florida from using your trademark.
Here’s the good news: A federal trademark allows you the greatest legal protections. If the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) accepts your application, your logo will be on the Principal Register list.
This comes with a lot of benefits, including:
>> Complete ownership and exclusive use of your logo in the United States
>> Right to file a business lawsuit in federal court in the event someone infringes upon your rights
>> Authority to register your trademark internationally and secure full protection according to the laws of the particular country
Many online companies have a federal trademark since they typically sell all over the U.S.
The less good news is that the USPTO application process is lengthy and complicated. That being said, I will break down the process for you.
The difference between a trademark and copyright can be confusing at first because they both provide protection. And, to confuse matters even more, you can both trademark and copyright a logo.
A trademark protects your brand elements that represent your name or company, such as symbols, logos, taglines—sometimes even a mix of each. These elements are often also used for advertising, documentation, and other online and offline uses.
A copyright protects creative pieces of work such as books, audio, movies, or computer applications. You can’t get a copyright for just an idea; it must at least be tangible somehow, usually physically or digitally.
If your logo includes originally designed art, it may be eligible for both copyright and trademark, to give you full protection from competitors.
It depends on the logo creator. If you’ve designed your own logo, your trademark is yours! However, if you’ve hired a designer to make your logo for you, the trademark becomes your only once you buy it from the designer.
Luckily, once you own your trademark, you have full say over your logo – including edits, where it shows up, and even how others are allowed to use it.
There are two trademark symbols you can use to protect your designs: ™ and ®. These symbols let people know that you’ve claimed ownership of your designs.
You don’t have to use these symbols in your logo (in fact, we recommend not including them, as they can hurt a clean design), but they do make it evident that your logos are protected.
Here’s how to add trademark symbols using a Windows computer or Apple Mac Windows:
ALT + 0153
OPTION + 2
ALT + 0174
OPTION + R
As with most things in life (unfortunately), the trademark process costs a (not so) pretty penny. Let’s just rip the bandaid off and talk numbers.
The cost of registering a logo for a trademark varies by country and the level of protection you choose.
Registering with your state will cost you $50 to $150. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office costs between $275 to $660, excluding attorney fees.
If you file online with the USPTO using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), there are three options to choose from. The particular form you choose will depend on your business and logo.
(1) Regular TEAS for $400.
(2) TEAS RF for $275.
(3) TEAS Plus for $225.
Filing via paper form costs a flat rate of $600.
Now let’s talk about legal fees.
There are benefits of using a lawyer, one of them being they are savvy investigators. A lawyer can determine quite easily if your logo or business name belongs to someone else, as well as help get your application approved.
However, a lawyer can charge anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
OK, I’ve covered the what, when, and why. Now, let’s dive in and understand how.
This is for those of you who decide to apply for registration on your own without the assistance of a lawyer. I won’t lie: The process is complex. But if you follow these steps one at a time, you’ll manage just fine.
Before you even apply, the first step is to ensure that your trademark is not similar to any other that exists. If you are proceeding with a lawyer, they will do this step for you. You can also check your logo’s uniqueness by searching the trademark database on the USPTO’s website.
Remember what I said earlier about types of trademarks: The least generic a logo is, the higher chance it will be approved. In fact, that is the most common reason why an application is rejected; it is too similar to an existing trademark.
The application will prompt you to describe the goods or services your logo represents. If you fail to do so- or if the logo does not clearly represent the type of product it claims to sell- the USPTO will reject your application.
So when I said you will need to describe the good or service, I mean really get into detail. For example, one category includes precious metals such as jewelry; another incorporates musical instruments.
Again, it is really important to classify your product using precisely the right words. Otherwise, your application might be denied.
A specimen is evidence of the use of the trademark; it is the physical item the logo is used for. If your logo represents a candle, you would provide a physical candle or even a photo of the trademark on the candle itself, as the specimen.
What not to use as specimen:
>> Business cards
>> Marketing materials
The reason being the product specimen must present evidence of a transaction between you and your customer.
But if you do not provide a physical good but rather a service, the rules change slightly- in fact, it’s even easier. All you need to supply is materials used to advertise your company. The logo and service you offer must show a direct association.
If you provide a service such as delivering custom-made candles to special events, you would simply supply an invoice or a screenshot of the website where you offer your services.
At this point, you’ve completed the process. All the documents are in order, the forms are filled, and you are ready to hit submit.
Now the waiting game begins.
Do not be concerned if you don’t hear back right away. It takes anywhere from six months to one year to receive the final decision.
Until then, you can check on the status of your application in the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval database, as well as check the current processing times for applications.
You already have the crucial element to starting a successful business: a logo.
Your next step is to trademark your logo to ensure the uniqueness of your business is protected.
Follow this guide step-by-step and you can rest assured that your logo will remain as the unique, memorable visual representation of your business for years to come.
This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information as well as has not been evaluated the accuracy and/or completeness of the information.