How to file for a Trademark
Do you need a trademark?
If you have a product or a company name that is unique then you might want to consider applying for a trademark. There are two approaches to applying for a trademark to your brand or product:
1) Apply the trademark logo "TM" to your product. This lets the world know that you are claiming a trademark for this mark. You don't necessarily have to file anything to accomplish this. Being able to document the first use of the mark could be enough to protect your brand should a dispute arise.
2) File for a registered trademark. How to do this is discussed below. What does registration get you? If approved by the trademark office, your mark is registered in the US Governments trademark database. This officially recognizes your mark as being yours. You can then use the registered trademark ("R") symbol on your mark. What protection does this offer? By registering your mark you make it easier to go to court and claim that the mark is yours if someone infringes upon it. It also prevents someone else from registering your mark and then using the registration against you.
However, there is one big problem with all of this. Having a registered trademark does not mean anyone will actually protect your mark. Should someone infringe on your mark you have to go to court and sue them at your expense. This could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. If a large company infringes on your mark they will have the ability to run this through the courts for years while you are spending money on lawyers. You have to decide how important your mark is and how willing you are to defend it. One approach is to get the mark on your own as described below. This is a fairly inexpensive procedure. Deciding to deal with the "what if's" of infringement as they come along. However, part of having a registered trademark is defending it. If you know of infringement and do nothing about it you are giving up your rights to the mark.
I think I could use a trademark, now what?
Many companies will try to convince you that getting a trademark is a complex and difficult process or that you need a lawyer to get one. These same companies will charge you hundreds of dollars in fees to file a trademark application for you. However, if you can fill out the form on the companies web site that is providing you with this "service" then you can fill out essentially the same form at the US Governments Trademark site. The nice thing about filing at the Government site is that there are no service fees, legal fees attorney's fees or any other fees except what it costs to file for a trademark which you would pay on top of the fees charged by that said company.
Here is how it works:
--First, see if your proposed trademark has already been taken by someone else. Go
here to search the trademark database for your proposed mark. If the mark is not registered then:
--Go to the US Trademark application web site
here and apply for your mark. Don't be put off by the application process, it is very simple and straightforward.
The web site, along with the main
Trademark site, has everything you need to know about trademarks, classifications and what to do. Their automated on-line application system will walk you through the application process. There is an excellent tutorial on the trademark site
From this application web site you can check on your filing, see where it is in the trademark process and also make changes to your application even after filing. Trademarks take a while to work their way through the system. Expect about a year or so. There is nothing you can do about this nor can any company make it happen any faster for any price. Beware of companies claiming "expedited" service and charging even higher premiums.
The trademark office will keep you notified along the way of any changes or questions they have. Should they have a question they will email you and have you respond through their web site by making an amendment or sometimes (for minor changes) just by agreeing in your email response to the change. Always be sure to respond within the time frame allotted by the office.
In most cases, assuming there is no mark that conflicts with your proposed name, the process will work it's course and you will receive your new trademark -- saving you hundreds of dollars. Should conflicts arise you will be notified and be given plenty of time to handle the situation and determine if the situation has become too complex and a lawyer is needed. These conflicts and the need for a lawyer at this point would have occurred regardless of who filed your application. So even if you need a lawyer at this point you are still ahead of the game and have saved money.