What is a Trademark & How Do I Get One?
Posted on 14, May, 2015
Last Modified on 26, May, 2015
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is a word, symbol, phrase, or logo that is legally registered to a business, distinguishing it from competitors. Chances are you don’t pass a single day without being exposed to hundreds - or even thousands - of trademarks. They are literally everywhere. There is even a trademark at the top of this web page - Displays2go. Displays2go is the trademarked name of our business and that means that no other business can legally use that trademark name in our business category.
You can bet that the name MacDonald’s, those iconic golden arches, and the slogan “I’m Loving It” are all trademarked. “Just Do it” and the Nike Swoosh are trademarked. The name Google is trademarked. Coca-Cola is trademarked. Did you know that even Bubble Wrap is a trademarked name? Or Popsicle? Or Laundromat? These are commonplace terms today, but they all started out as trademarks.
Besides business names and logos, catchphrases, mascots, and even lyrics can be trademarked. Paris Hilton holds the trademark on the catchphrase “That’s Hot”. Donald Trump tried (unsuccessfully) to trademark “You’re Fired”. Wally the Green Monster of our beloved Red Sox is a trademarked mascot. So is the Geico Gecko! Taylor Swift even trademarked the lyric “This Sick Beat” from her hit song “Shake it Off”.
While these examples of trademarking may seem extreme and a little bit humorous, trademarks are important when it comes to protecting your business’s name, logo, or slogan from potentially harmful copycats.
Trademark vs Copyright
What is the different between a trademark and a copyright? A trademark is meant to distinguish one business entity from another, while a copyright simply protects authorship of original works. Copyrights apply to things like novels, movies, plays, songs, paintings or architecture. Trademarks are limited to names, logos, phrases, or symbols that identify the source of a product or service. Copyrights exist from the moment the work is created and legal registration is encouraged, but optional. Trademarks, however, must be legally registered.
How to Get a Trademark
You’ll need to register your desired trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
- Identify the exact mark you wish to trademark. If you are registering a business name with no special appearance, you will need to submit the name in a standard character format. In this submission format, the font, color, and text sizes do not matter. Simply include the word or phrase you wish to register. Use a stylized format if you wish to trademark a particular appearance. This format includes fonts, colors, sizes, and graphics. Submit a design mark for any logo designs.
- Determine which goods or services your trademark will apply to. You’ll need to include this industry information when you start the filing process. For example, the Displays2go trademark was filed under the “Point of purchase displays” category.
- Search the trademark database on the USPTO site to see if your trademark is already used in a competing business. It’s called the Trademark Electronic Search System or TESS. Hopefully the mark is not already being used - you'll want to avoid any trademark infringement the best you can.
- Fill out an online application through the Trademark Electronic Search System. This is where you will need to submit the standard or stylized format drawing of the symbol referenced in Step 1. Plan for an application fee, which will vary by industry.
Wondering how to get a trademark for a logo? Simply follow the same steps as above!
The purpose of getting a trademark is primarily to protect your business from knockoffs and copycats. If you’ve spent a lot of time and effort building your brand, designing logos, and coming up with the perfect product name, you don’t want all that work to be stolen by a impersonator. Companies with very similar trademarks within the same industry may cause brand confusion with customers. Similarly, if a copycat uses an established brand’s logo or name for their similar products, consumers could unknowingly purchase the knockoff product. Legal trademarks provide protection for both consumers and businesses in this way.
If you feel that a brand is infringing on your trademark, you as the owner of the mark are required to enforce ownership. This sounds daunting but the plus side of having a federally registered trademark is that it will be visible in the Trademark Electronic Search System and ownership claims of the mark can be enforced in the courts. Trademark infringement cases may be brought against the infringer in civil courts.
BONUS POINTS! Get the registered trademark symbol from your keyboard by typing 0153 while holding down ALT.