man putting business open sign on front door
Registering a trademark for your business might not be the first item on your to-do list, but it should be done to prevent any issues from happening down the road. — Getty Images/fotostorm

Choosing a name and logo for your business is an exciting first step in launching your startup. However, many small business owners fail to register a trademark to protect these defining characteristics.

While you may not think registering a trademark for your business name or logo is necessary, ignoring this important step could cause issues for you down the road. Here’s what you need to know about trademark registration in the United States.

What is a trademark?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is used to identify and distinguish a particular brand name or logo associated with goods or services. A trademark can be any name, symbol, design, sound or any combination of these elements that describes your business and distinguishes it from others.

Only businesses that have registered their trademark with the USPTO can use the registered trademark symbol, (®), and enjoy full, immediate legal protection against infringement.

LegalZoom explains that unregistered trademarks (™) can still be defended as intellectual property in infringement cases. However, you must prove to a court that the trademark is your original creation.

[For more on trademark registration, see: Registering A Business With the Federal Government.]

Am I required to trademark my business?

You are not required to trademark your business to operate or register as a legal entity, but it’s a lot harder to make a case against copyright infringers without a registered trademark.

Without a trademark, someone else could register your name or logo as their own, which could force you to rebrand your company. Trademarking your brand prevents this type of scenario by protecting your business name and identity at a national level.

Without a trademark, someone else could register your name or logo as their own, which could force you to rebrand your company.

How do I register a trademark for my business?

The USPTO outlines six steps in the process of registering a trademark:

1. Determine whether a trademark application is right for you. A trademark is different from patents, copyrights, domain names and business name registrations. If you are specifically seeking to protect brand names and logos, you may proceed with the trademark registration process.

2. Prepare to apply. Before you complete your application, you must select a registrable mark, identify your mark format (character, design, sound), determine your basis for filing, and search the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to see if your chosen mark already exists.

3. Submit your application. The USPTO has three initial trademark application forms, which range from $225 to $400, respectively. Applications can be submitted and monitored online.

4. Work with the USPTO’s attorney. An attorney for the USPTO will review your application. If there are any problems, they will issue a letter, and you will have six months to address and respond to it.

5. Receive approval. If there are no issues with your application, or you’ve overcome the attorney’s objections, your trademark will be approved and published by the USPTO.

6. Maintain your registration. Once your trademark is officially registered with the USPTO, you will need to maintain that registration by filing the appropriate forms, according to the USPTO’s timeline.

It’s important to note that a trademark application is a legal proceeding governed by U.S. law. You may want to consider hiring an attorney who specializes in registering trademarks before you begin this process. The whole process can take several months to a year or more, and you don’t want to have your application thrown out or trademark registration revoked because you missed a correspondence or filing deadline.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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