Now, we’re not attorneys. This isn’t legal advice. And if you want to be 100% sure you’ve done it all right on the way to trademarking your logo, help from a lawyer is the way to go. But we are marketers. That means we probably think more about logos than even the most jaded IP attorney.
And one thing is for sure: You need a logo.
Along with branded colors, typography, and other elements of brand development, a logo is one of the core assets that brings together your look and feel. People know at a glance they’re getting a message from you because it contains your logo. It’s one of the ways you differentiate yourself.
And you can only protect it as an asset if it is formally trademarked.
Anything your company creates automatically gets copyrighted. Only you are allowed to reproduce and commercialize it. Even though there’s a formal copyright process, you still get protection even before you do it (or even if you don’t do it, though this isn’t advisable.)
Trademarks, however, are different. They safeguard things like:
- Your logo design and its distinctive design elements
- Your company’s name and its various product names
- Other aspects of your brand identity, like your slogan
While copyright focuses on an individual work of writing, art, or other output, a trademark has to do with what makes your company unique. Trademark is also different because once you hold a trademark, you are required to defend it in order to keep it active – which may mean suing those who infringe on it. If you don’t register a trademark, potential infringement cases can be a lot harder for you to win.
(Again, we’re not attorneys. But there are thousands who would love to tell you all about this.)
Because a trademark is so central to separating your brand from the rest, it is important to make sure you start the trademark process while your logo design is still in development. If you already have a logo you like, take action as soon as possible to enshrine your logo with the proper legal status.
1. Start with a Trademark Search
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can get you started on a free trademark search. Many entrepreneurs do a trademark search before they launch their business so they can verify there’s no other entity using a name too similar to the one they’re interested in using.
A trademark search will help you identify similar trademarks, trademarks used on related products or services, and – of course – those that are actually live and enforced in the present day. If a trademark meets all three of these criteria, then your similar trademark will not be accepted by USPTO.
2. Understand the Difference Between Trademark and Service Mark
The term trademark can also refer to service marks. Just like a trademark can be a word, phrase, design, or symbol that identifies products, a service mark is any of these that helps identify services instead of tangible goods. Whether you have a trademark or service mark, USPTO is the place to go. The steps to codify your service mark are often nearly identical.
3. Apply for Your Trademark
Online trademark applications accelerate the process, but you still need to have plenty of documents at the ready. Processing wait times vary based on the volume of requests and can take more than a year. Respond promptly to any USPTO follow-up to smooth things along.
4. Know How to Use the Relevant Trademark Symbols
There are three trademark symbols. Whenever you use your trademark or service mark, you are also entitled to use the relevant symbol. Many companies make it a point to use the symbol every time it applies, as part of their efforts to diligently monitor the use of their trademarks.
The three symbols are:
- ™ for trademarks
- ? for service marks
- ® for registered trademarks
The first two symbols can be used with any trademark or service mark you own, even if the mark hasn’t been registered with USPTO. Once your trademark claim has been evaluated and accepted by USPTO, it becomes eligible to use the registered trademark symbol.
While it’s common to place the registered trademark symbol in superscript right next to the protected name, it can actually be used anywhere around the name, and subscript is just as valid as superscript. No matter what you do, make sure you’re consistent and follow best practices for your brand.
Contact the team at New York Ave today to start on a logo design you’ll be glad to trademark.