- Brands can be trademarked for present and/or future commercial use.
- Before you attempt to trademark anything, you should use the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System to ensure the idea is original and has not already been trademarked.
- The main difference between patents and trademarks is that patents deal with inventions while trademarks deal with words, phrases, logos, or designs.
Your brand is your business's identity, so it's important to secure it. To be sure no one improperly uses your business's name or branding, you need to obtain a trademark. To do so, you'll need to file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Filing an application does not automatically mean your trademark will be approved. There are rules to follow and a required application fee, but at the end of the process, you will hold the exclusive rights to the name and branding of your business or product. The information below should help to guide you and your business through the trademark process.
Brands can be trademarked for either current or future commercial use. If you plan on selling products under the trademarked brand, the name must be displayed on the product's packaging. If your brand offers services, the trademark must be displayed on marketing and advertising materials. If you have already started using the name or mark in a commercial setting, you will have to specify the data when you first began using it. If you plan on using the name or mark in the future, you must note this on the application.
It's important to understand whether your brand is eligible for a trademark first before filing. The trademark and patent process is time-consuming and costs money, so you don't want to waste effort trying to trademark an ineligible idea. Review the rules and understand whether your application is valid.
Conducting a trademark search
It's no use trying to trademark a brand or phrase that has already been trademarked by someone else. Luckily, the USPTO maintains a database of trademarked terms called the Trademark Electronic Search System. If you intend to register a trademark that uses a design instead of just a simple name, you must search using a design code, which you can find in the Design Search Code Manual.
Registering your trademark
Now comes the fun part. Use the Trademark Electronic Application System to apply for your trademark license. The application is simple to fill out online, but be sure your information is accurate and complete, or else you could be wasting the filing fee. Application fees range from $225 to $400, so you don't want to be rejected on a technicality. You can pay this fee online by credit card, electronic funds transfer or an existing USPTO deposit account. Once submitted, your form will go directly to the USPTO.
Companies that participate in international business
If your company does any business internationally, you should know that your registered trademarks are generally only valid in the United States. Once you have applied for a trademark in the United States, however, you may be eligible to apply for an international trademark under the Madrid Protocol. To do this, you must file an application with the international bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization. The USPTO will assist you in filing your international application. Your international application will pass through the USPTO before it is forwarded to the WIPO.
Why patent a name or register a trademark?
Before we delve into the benefits of patenting or a trademark, let’s first discuss what these two terms entail as well as the differences between the two. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the definitions are as follows:
- Trademark: A trademark is applied to words, symbols, phrases and/or designs that help to identify and distinguish a brand or company from its competitors. A trademark is similar to a service mark, which is a word, symbol, phrase, and/or design that makes it possible to distinguish and identify the source of a good from the goods themselves. Moreover, the terms trademark is often used as a blanket term to describe both trademarks and service marks.
- Patent: A patent is property right that covers the rights to an invention, which is only valid for a set amount of time. Patents are granted exclusively by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for the right to expose the new invention to the general public. Things that can be patented are manufactured articles, machines, industrial processes, and chemical compositions. The length of time on which the patent is valid depends on the type of invention. Design patents are valid for 15 years and utility and plant patents are valid for 20 years.
According to the Henry Patent Firm, the differences are as follows:
- Protection: While patents protect inventions that are useful, innovative and unique, trademarks protect any word, symbol, phrase, or logo that one brand, company, or organization from its competitors.
- The rights: A patent allows the owner to exclude others from selling, making, using, and/or importing a particular product. A trademark gives the owner the right to prevent others from unfairly competing by using similar phrases, symbols, logos or words that may attract and confuse consumers.
- Registration: A patent requires the owner to file an application. While registration is not required for a trademark, taking the time to register does offer you added legal benefits.
- Renewals: A patent requires maintenance fees after 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years, to be fully functional for 20 years. A trademark must be renewed every 10 years.
Therefore, the benefits are that you can either prevent other companies from selling, using, making or importing a particular product, and thus, other companies are not able to undercut or interfere with the profits being accrued from your invention. On the other hand, a trademark prevents potential competitors from copying or too closely mimicking your brand, which can help businesses differentiate their products from others, and maintain the customers and profits they worked so hard to get.