The Importance of Federal Trademarks for Small Businesses
Starting a business is no small feat. Along with the fiscal, mental, and emotional preparation necessary to take the first step towards opening your own venture, the practical elements involved also come into play to ensure you are protecting your ideas and furthering the longevity of your company. You may have come up with a great idea for a new or revamped service/product. Some of your awesome friends and family may have also agreed to sow a seed into your business by giving you a few investment dollars towards expenses. Even if you aren’t that “lucky” to have investors, you possibly decided to go full throttle and throw nearly all of your life’s savings into this emerging business. With this great idea/product/service brewing in your head, money behind your goals, an equally awesome name for your business, and a logo that your former boyfriend may have drafted for you gratis as a means of atonement for being a jerk when you dated him years ago, what’s the next step?
As ownership and control of all business assets and affairs is necessary for success, the next step to continue the path of edifying your company is to register for federal trademark ownership of its name and mark/logo. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics/trademark-patent-or-copyright), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Additionally, a service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Filing for trademark protection prohibits others from utilizing your company name, logo, or anything confusingly similar as it may hinder your business or company operations and profits. Certificates of ownership are issued on a first-come first –serve basis, as the party filing has to prove when the name or logo was first used in commerce. Though filing with the USPTO is not necessary in order to have “common law” rights and ownership to your mark and name, it provides numerous benefits that will assist in protecting your brand. This includes giving the legal presumption of ownership to others and also exclusive rights to its use on a federal level; whereas common law only protects where the mark is used (i.e. – in a particular state or county).
Trademark registration can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months for a certificate of ownership to be returned to you.During this period, an examining attorney is assigned to review the mark/logo and name filed, and make a determination as to whether or not it is already owned by someone else (in the particular class you are filing for) and/or if your potential mark/logo and name are too similar to one that already exists. You are still able to utilize your mark/logo and name while this determination is being made, and sometimes, you may even be advised to provide additional information or waive claim to certain basic words that are included in your filing.
I always advise clients, prior to launching a business or settling on a name for their purported business, of the importance of a search on both the state and federal level to determine if that name is already used in business by someone else. Yes, the name you came up with is catchy, and you can’t recall if someone on a previous episode of Shark Tank has already used it, but have you had a thorough search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office completed to see if that is the case? It would be a total bummer to do all of this work of building a business around a name and mark/logo, start to gather a significant following of paying clients, especially across the nation and worldwide, and someone else owns or takes the name or logo right from up under you. Basically, filing for federal trademark ownership gives you the right to stop another person or company from biting your style.
For more information regarding Federal Trademarks, please visit: http://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/trademarks/basics/BasicFacts.pdf