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How to Register a Business Trademark

image for EllenaZ / Getty Images
EllenaZ / Getty Images
  • A trademark protects a business's rights to use the mark to identify its goods and/or services, and prevent another company from using the same mark for the same class of goods and/or services.
  • To register a business trademark, file one of three electronic applications with the USPTO: TEAS Plus, TEAS RF or TEAS Regular.
  • Although you can legally register a trademark with the USPTO on your own, it is highly recommended that you seek out a trademark attorney to assist you. Hiring a trademark attorney simplifies the process and increases the accuracy of your application. 

Having a brand that consumers can recognize and trust is essential to creating a successful business. However, without a business trademark to protect your brand identity, you run the risk of competitors using your business name, slogan or logo. This can tarnish your brand, cause consumer confusion, and potentially lead to legal ramifications and monetary losses. 

Kelly DuFord, co-founder and managing partner of DuFord Law, said there are multiple reasons why a business should register their trademark. For example, a brand might have valuable intellectual property that it wants to protect so it can profit through licensing, or a company may need to get a trademark registered in order to verify its business on retail platforms, such as Amazon. 

"Whatever the reason may be, trademarking is an asset, a piece of intellectual property that can potentially set your business apart in a time of market oversaturation," DuFord told Business News Daily. "Trademarks are very detailed and time-consuming but necessary." 

Although registering a business trademark can be costly, it is well worth the expense. Unlike a copyright or a patent, a trademark does not expire after a set period of time. Instead, business trademarks can be continuously renewed in 10-year increments. Keep in mind, there are stipulations that you must adhere to in order to keep your trademark active, and your domestic trademark only protects you in the United States. 

As defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), "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." A service mark technically differs from a trademark in that it protects services rather than goods; however, the USPTO said the term "trademark" is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.    

"A trademark registration protects the trademark holder's rights to use the mark to identify its goods and/or services, and to prevent another company from using the same mark for the same class of goods and/or services," said Nancy A. Del Pizzo, a partner in Rivkin Radler's commercial litigation; intellectual property; and privacy, data, and cyber law practice groups. "Registered trademarks can be powerful tools toward developing customer goodwill and adding value to a product or service covered by the mark." 

It is not mandatory for businesses to register their trademark. It is possible for a company to establish common law rights to a mark based solely on the use of it. However, registering your mark has many advantages – the biggest one being exclusive legal rights. Having legal usage rights over your marks helps you maintain your brand identity and protects it from being copied. 

Del Pizzo said it is important for businesses to understand that the name of their business is not necessarily a trademark, and in some cases, may not be registerable as a trademark. "Registering a business name with a state entity to do business in that state is not the same as registering a trademark with the USPTO to obtain federal trademark rights," said Del Pizzo.

Companies should register business trademarks as soon as possible to avoid complications and monetary damages later on. Del Pizzo said that some small businesses have made the mistake of investing time and money on branding and marketing their business, only to later find out that another company has federal trademark rights that bar their use. 

Additionally, businesses that invest money into a brand before speaking with an attorney about trademark rights run the risk of trying to trademark a name that is simply not trademarkable.  For example, Travis Crabtree, president and general counsel of Swyft Filings, said generic names (e.g., Best Donuts) and descriptive names (e.g., Yellow Legal Pads) will likely not receive protection. 

"Fanciful or arbitrary names that really don't have much to do with the product (e.g., Google or Uber) have an easier time getting registered," said Crabtree. "This dichotomy builds an automatic tension when starting a new brand. You want a name that can be protected and won't be imitated, but you also want the public to have some idea what it is that you are selling when they see your name or logo." 

Crabtree added that if you have a product or service that people want, it won't take long for others to copy you. Although registering a trademark can be as quick as six months, it can take up to a year or more – hence, the importance of starting the application process as soon as possible. 

To register a trademark in the United States, you will have to file an application with the USPTO, the federal agency that governs the enforceability of trademark protection. Although you can legally register a trademark with the USPTO on your own, it is highly recommended that you seek out a trademark attorney to assist you. Trained professionals can simplify the process and increase accuracy. Missteps in the application process can cost you time and money. 

Before you can file an application, Crabtree said you will need to gather pertinent business information, for example, the mark you want protected, the owner of it, the category of goods or services associated with it, and when you started or intend to start using it.  

It is important for business owners to understand the different marks and applications that each component is registered under, so they do not file incorrectly. For example, names and slogans are registered as word marks, and logos are registered as design marks. 

"If you are applying for protection for the name of your business, your slogan, and the company logo, then you would be applying for three separate applications: two word mark applications and one design mark application," said DuFord. 

There are three separate electronic applications to choose from (TEAS Plus, TEAS RF and TEAS Regular). Each has its own benefits and limitations. If you work with an attorney, they may have a preferred application that they file under; otherwise, it's up to you to decide which one suits you best. 

  • TEAS Plus: This is the cheapest application, but it requires the most information from the applicant. The depth of information means it will likely be processed quicker; however, it can be hard to identify some of the information it requires. This application is filed electronically.

  • TEAS Reduced Fee (RF): This application costs slightly more than the TEAS Plus, but it does not require as much information. It also allows you to customize the description of your goods and/or services, which is beneficial, but it may require the assistance of an attorney. This application is filed electronically.

  • TEAS Regular: This is the most expensive application, and it is not very desirable for most applicants. One drawback of this option is that it requires the least amount of information from the applicant, which means you will have the chance to file quickly before any competitors can file. This application can be filed electronically or nonelectronically. 

After filing your application, the USPTO can take anywhere from one to three months for the initial review.

"The USPTO will either issue an office action, which means they have an issue or question about the application, or they will move it to through the next steps," said Crabtree. 

The cost of registering a trademark depends on several factors. First, you need to determine if you are going to partner with an attorney, which is highly advised. Attorney fees vary; the pricing we found ranged from $800 to $3,000.   

Next, you will have to decide which application you are using (TEAS Plus, TEAS RF or TEAS Regular), the number of classes you are applying in, and the "use" designation you are declaring. 

The cost of the three electronic versions of the USPTO federal trademark applications are as follows: 

  • TEAS Plus application: $225 per class of goods and services.
  • TEAS RF application: $275 per class of goods and services.
  • TEAS Regular application: $400 per class of goods and services. 

When filing these applications, be sure to fill them out completely and accurately. According to the USPTO, if you fail to meet the TEAS Plus or TEAS RF requirements, your application will be treated as the next level application (e.g., TEAS Plus will be treated as TEAS RF, and TEAS RF will be treated as TEAS Regular), and the USPTO will require you to pay an additional application processing fee of $125 per international class. 

DuFord said there could also be additional filing fees depending on the "use" designation. "If you declare that you are already using the mark and can provide evidence of it in use, then you can avoid one less filing fee. However, additional filing fees can add to the price of a TM application if you have to declare an 'intent to use' and later file a declaration of use; this price can accrue even more if the applicant is not ready to show evidence of it in use at the appropriate time and has to file an extension, all of which adds more to the price of the USPTO filing fees." 

When we spoke with Jason VanDevere, the founder of GoalCrazy Planners, he provided a potential money-saving route for small businesses and startups that want an affordable way to get legal advice throughout the trademark registration process. 

When filing for his business trademark, VanDevere found a program through his local college, Akron University, that could file it for him for free.

"It turns out that many law schools have programs where the students will help small businesses create and file legal documents for free," said VanDevere. "The students will prepare the work and then the professor, who is a licensed lawyer, will check everything over and file it. Using this program, the only out-of-pocket expense I had was the federal filing fee of about $200, rather than the potential thousands I would have had to pay a lawyer." 

Although not every law school may offer this service, it is worth checking if it means you could save on legal fees. 

Regardless of the route you choose to register your business trademark, register as soon as possible.