How to Trademark a Logo: Everything You Need to Know

How to trademark a logo header

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.

What is a Trademark?

Your designs and ideas are, regrettably, at risk of being stolen or copied.

To protect your intellectual property (your non-physical creations such as images, logos, names, etc.), you should trademark your work.

It would be a shame if, after investing so much time and money to develop unique and individual branding elements, someone came along and claimed it as their own, or copied it so much as to be nearly identical. Intentional or not.

For example, Nike uses its swoosh, or tick, to identify its brand to consumers. If someone else were to start using a similar-looking swoosh on their shoes, that would be a breach of Nike’s trademark, as people would think Nike made those shoes.

The crucial part of the law is that your trademark can be infringed upon if another company’s branding assets are so similar to yours that it confuses consumers. If that’s the case, then the infringing party must stop using similar branding elements.

Why is Trademarking a Logo Important?

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 ASAP:

Types of Trademarks

Types of logo trademarks

Acquiring a trademark will offer your logo legal protection against misuse by others. Your logo identifies your business to consumers, whether you’re offering a service or products. But there are other types of trademarks as well you should be aware of.

– A Suggestive Mark is for when a company name doesn’t automatically describe the type of product or service provided. The Jaguar car company is an example of a suggestive mark. The name Jaguar implies agility and speed, but it doesn’t convey an image of a car manufacturer.

– Fanciful Mark is a logo or name that is different from anything else that already exists. Adidas and Kodak are meaningless words in English, so it’s easy for them to receive a fanciful mark.

– Arbitrary Mark is for when a name or phrase already has a well-known meaning, but it’s different from the way the company is using it. An apple is a popular fruit, but Apple, the tech company, uses the name in such a way that is different from the general use of the word Apple.

Generic Mark can’t be given to generic names such as “The Shoe Store.” Trademarking such a vague name would restrict all other shoe shops. Instead, it must describe characteristics, qualities, or something else unique that your business sells or offers.

– Descriptive marks, like they sound, describe a product, ingredient, quality, feature, etc. like “Cute” for stuffed animals or “Hot” for heaters. These marks are usually not given trademark protection, because they don’t distinguish your products as unique in any way. 

– Service Marks protect companies that provide a service, such as pet groomers or house cleaning. Even though service marks are different from trademarks, they receive the same protections.

Does My Logo Qualify for Trademark Protection? 

generic logo icons

In short: If it’s “original” enough. 

An original logo name, at least in the sense of intellectual property, is one that’s clearly linked to the business/brand that it represents. It needs to be a unique word, like Airbnb or Instagram, or use a word/phrase that isn’t typically associated with your industry, like Amazon. 

However, if your logo is generic – as in, it’s just a common icon or emoji, or it has a name that could belong to anyone – you likely won’t qualify for a trademark. For example, logos that represent businesses called “Amazing Lawyer” or “Very Good Pizza” probably won’t cut it. 

Why Wouldn’t I Want to Trademark My Logo? 

If you want to protect your business, trademarking should be a no-brainer, right? 

Well – not exactly. There are a few reasons why you may want to re-think getting a trademark, including: 

  1. You’re unsure about your logo. Trademarking your logo can take time, effort, and a hefty amount of money depending on how you go about it. If you aren’t fully committed to your logo yet, or you think you’ll have to rebrand soon for whatever reason, wait with the trademarking process. You can always go ahead and trademark your logo once you’re sure it’s the one you want to represent your business for the long haul! 
  2. Your logo is generic. Uh-oh; tread carefully here. If your logo could be confused with another brand in your country, you could potentially get into legal trouble – and it’s worth it to change your logo right here and now. However, if you know the only other company that uses a design like yours is a small business somewhere in Idaho, and your business is based in West Virginia, you could consider only registering a trademark within your state (and keeping your current logo design). 
  3. You’re concerned your business won’t last. No shade here! If this is a temporary side hustle, or it’s just an idea that you’re trying out but are unsure it will be profitable enough to cover your initial expenses, it’s probably not worth your time – or money – to register a trademark at this time. 

Who Owns a Logo Trademark? 

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. 

How Much Will a Trademark Cost?

You can end up paying between $350-$1500 to trademark your logo. The two main costs will come from attorney fees and the trademark application itself. There’s a minimum filing fee that you must pay of $325, and there’s a wide range of possible attorney fees.

You can submit your request without assistance from legal counsel, but if you have to resubmit, you may end up paying another fee. Unfortunately, fees are non-refundable, and the average time to complete a trademark registration is around 5-10 months.

Ideally, if you wish to trademark your logo, you should start the process as soon as possible, and seek legal counsel to ensure you don’t have to pay any unnecessary fees for submitting your application request.

Until your trademark application is approved, you’re only protected by your local laws, which unfortunately are nowhere near as effective having an official trademarked logo.

Different Levels of Trademark Protection

There are varying levels of trademark protection, but for the best safeguard, you will need to register with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

Here are the main types of trademark protection: 

Difference Between a Trademark and Copyright

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.

How to Use Trademark Symbols

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:

Symbol

Windows

Mac OS

ALT + 0153

OPTION + 2

®

ALT + 0174

OPTION + R

The Process of Applying for a Trademark

The actual process of registering and applying for a trademark isn’t too complicated, as long as your brand logo design is original and unique.

Step 1 - Trademark Search

To ensure that no one else is already using a logo design that’s similar to yours, you can search the United States Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). It’s an online database that holds all of the currently registered trademarks.

There are specialists such as trademark attorneys who are experts in the research phase of the process. It may seem simple to do, but there are particular methods they use to ensure you aren’t using someone else’s design, even if it’s unintentional.

If there are any logos that already exist which are similar to yours, including any misspellings, it means you won’t receive approval for your trademark.

Step 2 - Secure Your Rights

After first using your logo, you’re protected at a local level, i.e., your local area. But if your brand logo will be used across states or nationally, then you should register your trademark to receive full protection.

Statewide protection – You need approval from the Secretary of State in your state.

National – Register and receive approval from the USPTO.

Step 3 – Determine Your Logo Colors

You will need to decide whether you’ll submit your application with a transparent logo (the black and white version of your logo), or a color logo. If your application is for a trademarked logo in red, you cannot change the color without applying for a new trademark (or at the very least making an appeal, which can include more fees).

Step 4 - Submit Your Initial Application

You can submit your trademark application through the USPTO’s website.

Step 5 – Set up Trademark Watch

The trademark watch service helps to ensure that no one else is using a similar logo to yours by searching for logos that might be infringing upon your brand’s trademark. It’s a voluntary service but does help to protect your logo.

Step 6 - Decide on a Final Version

It’s important to note that you can only submit one version of your logo, meaning that any changes made afterward won’t fall under your trademark protection.

So, before submitting your application, you need to be 100% sure that your logo is the final version you’ll keep. Once you’ve applied, it will be nearly impossible to make alterations.

Over to You

Your logo represents your brand and the time and money invested in your company. By trademarking your logo, you’re protecting your brand from shameless copycats and showing your customers that you mean business.