Finance

Business Trademarks 101: Registering Names, Logos, and Phrases

Need to know how to trademark a business but not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll walk you through absolutely everything you need to know to navigate the trademark process in the US.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.

Know what you want to trademark already? Jump ahead for the concrete steps to make it happen:

  • How to trademark a business/brand name
  • How to trademark a product name
  • How to trademark a logo
  • How to trademark a phrase

What Is a Trademark?

A trademark is intellectual property that consists of a name, design, sign, or written expression that identifies a specific brand and its products. The most common trademarks for a business include brand or business names, logos, and phrases (or tag lines).

Why Do You Need a Trademark?

Trademarking important assets protects your business from other companies capitalizing on the brand reputation you’ve built based on your name, products, or other intellectual property. Trademarks prevent competitors from using your brand identity to steal your business.

How Can Businesses Benefit from Trademarks?

There are 8 worthwhile reasons that every business can benefit from trademark protection.

1. It Makes It Easier to Prove Legal Protections in Cases of Infringement

A trademark lessens the burden of proof you must demonstrate in cases of infringement because a registered trademark provides you with protections like presumed ownership. There are still some legal protections for unregistered goods/services, but in those cases the burden of proof will be higher, rendering the process much more costly.

2. It Ensures You’re the Only Business Operating Under that Mark

Registering a trademark ensures exclusive use of a mark. If you trademark a logo or business name, for example, you can rest assured that none of your competitors will be able to operate with the same logo or business name.

3. It Protects You From Counterfeit Products

Once you’ve registered a trademark, you can record it with US Customs and Border Protection to prevent counterfeit goods from being imported.

4. You Reduce Your Own Risk of Infringement

As a part of the trademarking process, your proposed intellectual property will be vetted to ensure that you haven’t infringed upon an existing trademark. When you register a trademark, you can rest assured knowing that your new business venture isn’t overly similar to an existing business or brand.

5. It Makes It Easier to Expand into Other Countries

When it’s time to scale your business into a global enterprise, you’ll be able to use your federal trademark registration for foreign filing, simplifying the process.

6. You Can Use a Registered Trademark Mark

Once your trademark is registered, you can choose to use the “®” symbol to indicate federally registered trademarks.

7. The Protection is Long Lasting

Trademarks only need to be renewed periodically, providing you with maximum protection with minimal upkeep.

8. It Can Help Create Brand Recognition

A trademark offers you security for your brand. This protection, which prevents competitors from cribbing your intellectual property, means you can put more resources into your branding initiatives with more confidence.

How to Register and Trademark a Business Name

Step 1: Search the Federal Database

The first step in trademarking a business or brand name is to search the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Trademark Electronic Search System, which is commonly referred to as TESS. Search your desired trademark to ensure that it’s not already in use by another business or individual. For a brand name search, you will likely be best served by using the “Basic Word Mark Search (New User)” in TESS.

Step 2: Search State Trademark Databases

Second, you’ll want to search the state trademark databases for the state in which your business is operating to see if there is a mark that is registered at the state level.

Step 3: Search the Internet to See if It’s in Use

If a brand is unregistered but using the same brand name that you want to use, they may still benefit from legal protections. The burden of proof is higher for them, but they may still be able to claim that you’re infringing on their trademark. If you find that someone is using the brand name you want to trademark, the best bet is to seek legal advice as to your options.

Step 4: Apply

After you’ve completed an exhaustive search, the next step is to apply for a trademark. To complete the trademark application, you’ll need the following information:

  1. The applicant’s name and address
  2. The applicant’s citizenship status/legal entity (There is no requirement for an applicant to be a US citizen or even live in the US.)
  3. A name and address for future correspondence (This can be different from the name and address of the applicant.)
  4. A thorough description of the mark
  5. A specific list of what is covered by the mark (i.e. brand name use).
  6. The class of goods or services
  7. An example of the mark, along with the date for when it was first used
  8. A dated signature from the applicant or an authorized representative
  9. The application fee, which is based on the number of classes you’re seeking a trademark for

Step 5: File

Once you’ve completed the application, you have 2 choices for how to file:

  • TEAS Plus: TEAS Plus is the optimal option for many situations because it’s both cheaper and a more streamlined filing process.
  • TEAS Standard: If you need to include a custom description for your services or goods that’s not offered in the preset options listed in Plus, then you definitely want to apply through TEAS Standard.

After you’ve filed, you should receive a confirmation that your application has been submitted. This receipt should include a serial number from the USPTO that you can use to check on the status of your trademark application.

How to Trademark a Product Name

Step 1: Search the Federal Database

The first step in trademarking a product name is to search the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Trademark Electronic Search System, which is commonly referred to as TESS. Search your desired product name to ensure that it’s not already in use by another business or individual. You can easily do this by using the “Basic Word Mark Search (New User)” in TESS.

Step 2: Search State Trademark Databases

Second, you’ll want to search the state trademark databases for the state in which your business operates to see if there is a mark that is registered at the state level.

Step 3: Search the Internet to See if It’s in Use

The final stage of the search process is to search the internet to see if the product name you’re seeking to trademark is already in use. If you find that the name is in use, the existing product may already benefit from some common law trademark protections. In this case, your best course of action is to either choose a new product name or seek legal advice to explore your options.

Step 4: Apply

After you’ve completed an exhaustive search, the next step is to apply for a trademark. To complete the trademark application, you’ll need the following information:

  1. The applicant’s name and address
  2. The applicant’s citizenship status/legal entity (There is no requirement for an applicant to be a US citizen or even live in the US.)
  3. A name and address for future correspondence (This can be different from the name and address of the applicant.)
  4. The product name you wish to trademark
  5. A thorough description of the mark
  6. A specific list of goods covered by the mark.
  7. The class of goods or services
  8. An example of the mark, along with the date for when it was first used
  9. A dated signature from the applicant or an authorized representative
  10. The filing fee, which is based on the number of classes you’re seeking a trademark for

Step 5: File

Once you’ve completed the application, you have 2 choices for how to file:

  • TEAS Plus: TEAS Plus is the optimal option for many situations because it’s both cheaper and a more streamlined filing process.
  • TEAS Standard: If you need to include a custom description for your services or goods that’s not offered in the preset options listed in Plus, then you definitely want to apply through TEAS Standard.

After you’ve filed, you should receive a confirmation that your application has been submitted. This receipt should include a serial number from the USPTO that you can use to check on the status of your trademark registration application.

How to Trademark a Logo

Step 1: Search the Federal Database

The first step in trademarking a logo is to perform a trademark search using the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Trademark Electronic Search System, which is commonly referred to as TESS. Search your desired logo design to ensure that it’s not already in use by another business or individual. To search a logo design in TESS:

Step 2: Search State Trademark Databases

Second, you’ll want to search the state trademark databases for the state in which your business operates to see if there is a mark that is registered at the state level.

Step 3: Search the Internet to See if It’s in Use

Trademark law offers some protections to unregistered trademarks, so you’ll also want to search the internet to see if your desired logo design is already in use. The easiest way to do this is with a reverse Google image search. If you find that your logo design is in use, you may want to consult with a trademark attorney to determine the best next-steps.

Step 4: Apply
After you’ve completed an exhaustive search, the next step is to apply for a trademark. To complete the trademark application, you’ll need the following information:

  1. The applicant’s name and address
  2. The applicant’s citizenship status/legal entity (There is no requirement for an applicant to be a US citizen or even live in the US.)
  3. A name and address for future correspondence (This can be different from the name and address of the applicant.)
  4. A drawing/illustration of the desired mark
  5. A thorough description of the mark
  6. A specific list of goods and services covered by the mark.
  7. The class of goods or services
  8. An example of the mark, along with the date for when it was first used
  9. A dated signature from the applicant or an authorized representative
  10. The application fee, which is based on the number of classes you’re seeking a trademark for

Step 5: File

Once you’ve completed the application, you have 2 choices for how to file:

  • TEAS Plus: TEAS Plus is the optimal option for many situations because it’s both cheaper and a more streamlined filing process.
  • TEAS Standard: If you need to include a custom description for your services or goods that’s not offered in the preset options listed in Plus, then you definitely want to apply through TEAS Standard.

After you’ve filed, you should receive a confirmation that your application has been submitted. This receipt should include a serial number from the USPTO that you can use to check on the status of your trademark application.

How to Trademark a Phrase

Step 1: Search the Federal Database

The first step in trademarking a phrase is to search the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) Trademark Electronic Search System, which is commonly referred to as TESS. Because phrases are more complicated, you will want to use the “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form) search option in TESS, as it allows you to use multiple search fields.

Step 2: Search State Trademark Databases

Second, you’ll want to search the state trademark databases for the state in which your business operates to see if there is a mark that is registered at the state level.

Step 3: Search the Internet to See if It’s in Use

You’ll also want to search the internet to see if/how the phrase is being used. If it’s already regularly used in reference to a group of products or services, it will likely be more difficult to trademark. The same goes for really common turns of phrase. If it’s already being used by another brand but is unregistered, that business may already have some trademark rights.

Step 4: Apply

After you’ve completed an exhaustive search, the next step is to apply for a trademark. To complete the trademark application, you’ll need the following information:

  1. The applicant’s name and address
  2. The applicant’s citizenship status/legal entity (There is no requirement for an applicant to be a US citizen or even live in the US.)
  3. A name and address for future correspondence (This can be different from the name and address of the applicant.)
  4. The phrase you wish to trademark
  5. A thorough description of the mark
  6. A specific list of goods covered by the mark
  7. The class of goods or services
  8. An example of the mark, along with the date for when it was first used
  9. A dated signature from the applicant or an authorized representative
  10. The filing fee, which is based on the number of classes you’re seeking a trademark for

Step 5: File

Once you’ve completed the application, you have 2 choices for how to file:

  • TEAS Plus: TEAS Plus is the optimal option for many situations because it’s both cheaper and a more streamlined filing process.
  • TEAS Standard: If you need to include a custom description for your services or goods that’s not offered in the preset options listed in Plus, then you definitely want to apply through TEAS Standard.

After you’ve filed, you should receive a confirmation that your application has been submitted. This receipt should include a serial number from the USPTO that you can use to check on the status of your trademark registration application.

We’ve Taken Care of Your Trademark, Now Let’s Take Care of Revenue

Starting a business but not sure how to start making money? Take the free mini-course to learn how you can start your own business as a side hustle and begin raking in revenue.

Common Trademark Questions

What Are the Differences Between a Trademark, a Patent, and a Copyright?

Trademarks protect commercial names, logos, and phrases. Copyrights protect creative or intellectual works. Patents protect product design or use, depending on the patent type (utility patents, plant patents, design patents).

Who Should Trademark Their Business Name?

Everyone starting a new business venture can benefit from trademarking their business name and logo.

What Do You Do If Another Business Infringes on Your Trademark?

If you believe another individual or business is infringing on your trademark, you can file a civil action in state or federal court (depending on the circumstances). In most cases, trademark disputes are settled in federal court.

Can You Do Anything If Someone Uses Your Business Name or Logo If You Don’t Have a Trademark?

You will still benefit from some common law protections with an unregistered trademark. The burden of proof will likely be higher, and you may need to provide additional information. Logos benefit from more unregistered protections. It is illegal to use someone else’s logo even if it is unregistered.

What Do You Do if a Trademark is Already Taken?

If there is an existing trademark for a name, logo, or phrase you already use you may still own the mark if you can prove that your use predated the trademark. If there’s an existing trademark for a mark you have not yet used, you should use an alternate choice, as use would infringe on the existing mark.

Can You Buy a Trademark From Someone Else?

Yes, you can purchase a trademark. Trademarks are intellectual property and can be purchased and sold just like other forms of property.

Where Can You Search Existing Trademarks?

You can search existing trademarks through the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System, which is commonly referred to as TESS. You can also search via state trademark filing databases.

What Is Considered Trademark Infringement?

Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark in connection with the goods or services to which the trademark was granted.

How Much Does It Cost to Trademark?

If you apply via TEAS Plus, it will cost $250 per class of goods/services. If you apply via TEAS Standard, the fee is $350 per class of goods/services.

What Is Common Law Trademark Protection?

Common law trademark provides protection for a business name, product name, logo, or phrase that identifies the source of goods/services, even if the trademark has not been registered with the federal or state government.

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