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Updated Nov 08, 2023

How to Register a Business Trademark

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Simone Johnson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer

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A business trademark protects your company’s identity — without it, you run the risk of competitors using your business name, slogan or logo. This can tarnish your brand, confuse customers, and potentially lead to legal trouble and monetary losses. Here’s what you need to know about registering a trademark for your business.

What is a trademark, and what does it protect?

A trademark, as defined by the USPTO, “can be any word, phrase, symbol, design or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services.” A service mark technically differs from a trademark in that it protects services rather than goods; however, the USPTO says 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 at Rivkin Radler. “Registered trademarks can be powerful tools toward developing customer goodwill and adding value to a product or service covered by the mark.”

DuFord said there are multiple reasons for a business to register its trademark. For example, you might have valuable intellectual property that you want to protect so you can profit through licensing, or you may need to register a trademark in order to verify your 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 said. “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. However, you must adhere to certain stipulations to keep your trademark active, and your domestic trademark only protects you in the U.S.

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

Del Pizzo said it is important to understand that the name of a business is not necessarily a trademark and may not be registerable as one. “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.”

What are the different types of trademark applications?

The Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) gives you two ways to file — TEAS Plus and TEAS Standard. 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: At $250 per class of goods and services, this is the cheaper application, but you must pay all filing fees upfront with your initial application. The type of goods and services must be selected from the Trademark Identification Manual. The application must be completed and submitted by a U.S.-licensed attorney if you’re a foreign-domiciled applicant. 
  • TEAS Standard: This application costs more than TEAS Plus at $350 per class of goods and services. You don’t have to pay all fees upfront, but instead can pay one application filing fee with your initial application and pay the rest later in the process. In many cases, you aren’t required to use an attorney to complete and submit your application. TEAS Standard is the better option if the Trademark ID Manual doesn’t have a listing that accurately describes your goods and services, meaning you must write your own descriptions.

After you file your application, the USPTO takes four to six 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 the next steps,” said Crabtree.

Advice for filing if you can’t afford an attorney

Jason VanDevere, owner of GoalCrazy Planners, said there is a potential money-saving method for small businesses and startups to receive legal advice throughout the trademark registration process. VanDevere found a program through his local college, the University of Akron, that could file his business trademark 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,” he said. “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 offers this service, it is worth checking if you could save on legal fees. Regardless of the route you take to register your business trademark, though, you should register as soon as possible.

Did You Know?Did you know

If you can’t afford an attorney, see if your local college or university offers free trademark registration or legal assistance for small businesses.

Making a name for yourself

Though there are several steps involved in registering for a business trademark, the process is fairly straightforward. Starting the paperwork sooner rather than later can help ensure you get important rights to your business’s name and logo. This way, your company is uniquely yours, and your customers can easily identify your business. It’s the most reliable way to make your name official.

Shayna Waltower and Skye Schooley contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Simone Johnson, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Simone Johnson advises small business owners on the services and resources needed for not only day-to-day operations but also long-term profitability and growth. She's long had an interest in finance and has studied economic trends affecting the financial landscape, including the stock market. With this expertise, Johnson provides useful instruction on everything from EBITDA to payroll forms. In recent years, Johnson has expanded her purview to include advertising technology and digital marketing strategies. She has spent significant time profiling entrepreneurs and helps companies with brand objectives and audience targeting. Johnson holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in journalism.
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