- Registration of 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 or services.
- To register a business trademark, you need to file either the TEAS Plus or TEAS Standard electronic application with the USPTO.
- 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.
- This article is for business owners interested in protecting their brand by applying for a trademark.
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.
How do you trademark a business name and logo?
To register a trademark in the U.S., you have to file an application with the United States Patent Trademark Office (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 to seek the assistance of a trademark attorney, as trained professionals can simplify the process and ensure application accuracy. Missteps in the application process can cost you time and money.
Before you can file an application, you will need to gather pertinent business information, such as the mark you want protected, its owner, the category of goods or services associated with it, and when you started or intend to start using it, according to Travis Crabtree, president and general counsel of Swyft Filings.
It is important to understand the different marks and applications that each component is registered under so you 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 Kelly DuFord, co-founder and managing partner of Slate Law Group.
Before you fill out a trademark application, you should prepare to provide the following documentation:
- As with most applications, you'll need the name and address of the trademark owner. In some cases, this could be the name of your corporation. The owner's citizenship status is also required.
- You need to provide your business's legal entity type, such as whether it's an LLC or corporation.
- You must bring a drawing of the mark, word or phrase you would like to trademark. If your trademark is an image, make sure the design is accurate. If you want the words written a certain way, submit it in the desired style and font. To trademark a sound, submit your application with an audio clip.
- Bring a list of goods and services that will use your mark. Be aware that you must pay a fee for each class of goods or services you list in the application (see more about costs below).
- In some cases, you will need the date of the first time the mark was used, as well as photos of your mark being used with the goods and services you picked.
- You or the representatives involved with the application should provide a declaration that all the information on the application is valid.
- The cost to submit the application ranges from $200 to $700. The exact fee depends on the kind of application you use, the number of marks you apply for, and the number of classes of goods and services you list on your application.
Key takeaway: To trademark your business name or logo, you need to file an application with the USPTO. To complete the form, you need to provide information such as your goods and services list, the exact design or style of your logo, and details about your business.
What is a trademark, and what does it protect?
A trademark, as defined by the USPTO, "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 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 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."
DuFord said there are multiple reasons for a business to register their 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," said DuFord. "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 – 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 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."
Key takeaway: Registering a trademark gives your business legal ownership over the use of a word, phrase or design – such as the name of your business, a slogan or a logo. Trademarks are valid for up to 10 years and can be continuously renewed.
When should you trademark your business name and logo?
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 in branding and marketing, only to later find out that another company has federal trademark rights that bar their use.
Additionally, businesses that invest money in a brand before speaking with an attorney about trademark rights run the risk of trying to trademark a name that is simply not trademarkable. Generic names (e.g., Best Donuts) and descriptive names (e.g., Yellow Legal Pads) are not likely to receive protection, said Crabtree.
"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," he said. "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. The process of registering a trademark can be as short as six months, or it could take more than a year – hence the importance of starting the application process as soon as possible.
Key takeaway: You should try to trademark your company name and logo as soon as possible to ensure they aren't already in use and to secure legal rights to them.
What are the different types of trademark applications?
The Trademark Electronic Application System 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 $225 per class of goods and services, this is the cheaper application, but you must pay all filing fees upfront with your initial application, it must be completed and submitted by a U.S.-licensed attorney, and the type of goods and services must be selected from the Trademark Identification Manual.
- TEAS Standard: This application costs slightly more than TEAS Plus – $275 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 then pay the rest later in the process. You aren't required to use an attorney to complete and submit your application (but you still must designate one). TEAS Standard is the better option if the Trademark ID Manual doesn't have a listing that accurately describes your goods and services and you must write your own descriptions.
After you file your application, the USPTO takes 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.
Key takeaway: There are two trademark applications to choose from, TEAS Plus and TEAS Standard, which differ in cost and information requirements.
How much does it cost to trademark a business name and logo?
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 or TEAS Standard), the number of classes you are applying in, and the "use" designation you are declaring.
These are the costs of the two electronic versions of the USPTO federal trademark application:
- TEAS Plus application: $225 per class of goods and services
- TEAS Standard application: $275 per class of goods and services
When filing either of these applications, be sure to fill it out completely and accurately. If you fail to meet the TEAS Plus or TEAS Standard requirements, the USPTO will require you to pay an additional application processing fee for each class of goods or services, and TEAS Plus applications will be handled as TEAS Standard applications.
DuFord said there could 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."
Key takeaway: Attorney fees range from $800 to $3,000, and trademark application fees vary as well. Per class of goods and services, a TEAS Plus application is $225 and a TEAS Standard application is $275.
Advice for filing if you can't afford an attorney
Jason VanDevere, founder of GoalCrazy Planners, said there is a potential money-saving route for small businesses and startups to get 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.
Key takeaway: If you can't afford an attorney, see if your local college or university offers free trademark registration or legal assistance for small businesses.
Skye Schooley contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.