No matter what kind of business you’re in, if you have a brand and a name to protect, getting a trademark should be a priority. Here’s what to consider as you embark on the process.
Why Do You Need a Trademark?
A trademark can help prevent other people from using your profitable brand to make money for themselves. After all, it’s much easier to piggyback off someone else’s hard work than create a successful business from scratch. In addition, you don’t want others damaging your brand by using your name and misleading customers.
Once you have a trademark in place, you can also opt to sell licenses to other businesses that want to use your trademark. If you aren’t sure if your business will be in place a few years from now, you may want to hold off on getting a trademark. If you don’t actively use the trademark, you risk it becoming available to be registered by someone else.
How to File a Trademark
It can cost several hundred dollars to register your trademark, excluding any fees you might pay an attorney to help submit your application.
If you do want to register a trademark, use the simplest version of your brand name without a web domain (.com, .biz, etc.) attached to it. You want to make sure it’s broad enough to cover any possible questions or objections, but you also want to avoid getting rejected for trying to trademark a name that is too general.
First, search the USPTO website to see if your business name has been registered already. Doing so ahead of time helps ensure you don’t fill out the application without being aware if someone has already filed under your desired trademark name.
You can apply online from USPTO’s website. The process takes about 90 minutes. The website has several video tutorials that answer basic questions and walk you through the process. The site also has a toll-free helpline you can call during regular business hours: 800-786-9199.
When Do You Need a Lawyer?
Not everyone needs legal help when getting a trademark. If you are absolutely certain your business name is unique, you should be fine to go ahead without an attorney.
However, if you’ve found a similar-sounding business that has already trademarked its brand, or if you have a name that might be rejected for being too broad (like “Ice Cream Shop”), it’s probably smart to seek a lawyer’s help.
In addition, if there’s already a trademark for your business name, but you know you started your business before the other business with the trademark did, you will need a lawyer to help validate and make your claim. A brief, direct cease-and-desist letter is often sufficient, especially if it’s sent on your lawyer’s letterhead. If that doesn’t work, your lawyer can explain what to do next.
A lawyer can also help you avoid having your trademark application rejected and having to reapply. It can take several months to hear back from the USPTO, and you may lose precious time if you don’t seek a lawyer’s help early on.