An image of a small business owner researching how to trademark a name.
Running a business

How to trademark a name in 7 steps

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a legally registered symbol, name, or design that identifies and distinguishes a business's goods or services from others.

You came up with an idea, wrote a business plan, and started building a business you can be proud of. To further build your brand you decide to trademark your name to keep it distinguishable from other businesses. 

That’s where submitting a trademark application comes in. A trademark protects your company’s name and brand design from being imitated or copied. Below, we’ll break down how to trademark a name:

An illustration of how to trademark a name, including selecting a unique name or logo.

Know if your business needs a trademark

A trademark is a legal method to protect your business, but there’s no requirement that states you need to have one. 

If you’ve already registered your business with your secretary of state, you automatically have “common law ownership” of your business name. This prevents anybody else within your state from registering a business entity with that same name. However, your name does not enjoy the same protections in the other 49 states. 

When you go a step further by applying for a registered trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you receive broader, nationwide protection and more legal rights. 

Consider the industry landscape and potential competition for your goods or services. If there’s any brand confusion or infringement risk, a trademark becomes a strategic asset that can protect you in the long run. 

1. Select a mark

Your mark is the unique identifier that distinguishes your goods or services in the marketplace. But, you can’t register every mark with the USPTO. To be approved, you must have a strong trademark, which the USPTO defines as “able to identify and distinguish a single source of goods or services.” 

To determine if your mark is legally protectable, consider the following factors for strong versus weak marks, as defined by the USPTO

An illustration of strong vs. weak trademarks, including using arbitrary and suggestive words.

Strong marks:

  • Fanciful trademarks: These are invented words that exist solely to identify the good or service. 
  • Arbitrary trademarks: These are actual words with no relation to the good or service they’re representing. 
  • Suggestive trademarks: Slightly less strong than fanciful or arbitrary trademarks, these words suggest the nature of the good or service without directly describing them. 

Weak marks:

  • Descriptive trademarks: These marks directly identify characteristics of the good or service. For example, the phrase “soft pillow” for a brand of pillows is unlikely to be registrable. 
  • Generic trademarks: These are common, everyday names for a good or service that directly represent the actual category of a product or service. For example, a generic trademark would use the word “computer” for a brand of computers. 
  • Offensive or scandalous trademarks: The USPTO may refuse registration for marks that contain offensive or scandalous material.

The more distinctive and unique your mark is, the more likely it is to be registrable. Be sure to consider your mark carefully to ensure it gets approved. 

Select a mark format

You’ll also need to select a mark format. There are different types of marks for different types of intellectual property, each offering more specific protection. 

Determine which of the three mark formats applies to your desired trademark:

  • Standard character mark: This protects any combination of words, letters, or numbers without consideration of the font or style (for example, the name of a business or a slogan). It provides broad rights for use in any form of presentation.
  • Stylized/design mark: This applies to a mark with a design you’d like to protect (for example, a logo). The design may have letters or not.
  • Sound mark: This is for a tune or jingle representing a brand. For example, the MGM roaring lion sound falls under a sound mark.

Because your business will require a name and‌ logo, you’ll almost always need a standard character mark and design mark.

2. Search for existing trademarks

Always check to see whether there are other companies, people, or brands out there whose mark has a high “likelihood of confusion” with yours. You can use the USPTO database to check if a similar mark is already registered or in use. 

Remember that it’s not just about searching for people with the same mark or name but also uncovering similar ones. The USPTO may turn down your application if someone has already registered or applied for a mark that is the same or similar and they’re using it for related products or services. 

If you find a similar trademark during your search, don't despair. Trademark rights have a renewal requirement every six years, and after the tenth year, it will expire. Check the status in the database—and if it’s expired, you could be in luck. If it’s live, it’s time to pivot and figure out a new trade name to register.

3. Define your goods or services

In addition to specifying the name or logo you want to trademark, you also need to define the goods and services you’re registering your trademark for. This is an important step, as doing it improperly may prevent the registration of your mark. 

To define your goods or services, search the USPTO’s Trademark ID manual for the correct classification. Search under “Basic Fields” to find the appropriate ID for your service or good. If you don’t find it, you’ll need to write your description when applying with the TEAS Standard form. (This is not the case on the TEAS Plus form; see Step 6 for details.)

4. Identify your filing basis

You’ll also need to select your filing basis on your application form. You have four options, each with different requirements:

  • Use in commerce basis: File if you are already using the mark in commerce for the goods or services listed in the application. You’ll need proof (like a product label) that shows it’s already in use. 
  • Intent-to-use basis: File if you intend to use the mark in commerce but haven't started using it yet. You can submit your proof of use later on. 
  • Foreign registration basis: If you’re outside of the US, file if you have a valid registration of the same mark in the country of origin. This extends your trademark protection to the US without actual use in US commerce. 
  • Foreign application basis: File if you have a pending application or registration for the same mark in a foreign country.

Essentially, you’re confirming whether you’ve used the mark in sales and products already or intend to use it (meaning your product or service is market-ready). Review the in-depth USPTO explainer for more information. 

5. File the trademark application

You can file your initial application form on the USPTO website. You have two options: the TEAS Plus form and the TEAS Standard form. 

TEAS Plus has a lower filing fee ($250 per class of good or service), but it has stricter requirements than TEAS Standard. To use the TEAS Plus form, you must:

  • File a complete form
  • Select your goods or services from the list in the ID Manual (described in Step 4—there is some room for customization, but you cannot write a “free-text” entry describing your product as with TEAS Standard)
  • Pay full fees at the time of filing
  • File later communications regarding the application through TEAS
  • Receive all communications via email

The TEAS Standard form has an application fee of $350 per class of good or service. Use this option if you can’t satisfy the TEAS Plus requirements

6. Wait for USPTO application review

Once you submit your trademark application, the review process will take several months. If you meet the filing requirements, you’ll receive a serial number to keep track of your application. The USPTO will forward your application to an examining attorney, who will review your application for approval. 

If the USPTO approves your application, you will receive a notice of your trademark publication. After it’s published, any party who feels they may be impacted by your mark will have 30 days to act. If no opposition is filed, you’ll receive a certificate of registration from the USPTO in about 11 weeks. 

Benefits of a registered trademark for your business

Registering a trademark can enhance the strength and recognition of your brand in various ways. Here are the key benefits: 

  • Legal protection: A trademark helps avoid legal issues since it provides exclusive legal rights that allow you to take legal action against anyone who tries to use a similar mark for their business.
  • Nationwide recognition: A trademark offers nationwide visibility and protection that strengthens your brand’s presence beyond your local area. 
  • Global expansion opportunities: A registered trademark serves as a basis for obtaining trademark protection in foreign countries. 
  • Business credibility: A trademark gives your business credibility and lets customers know that your brand is legally protected. 
  • Use of the ® symbol: A trademark gives you the right to use the ® symbol next to your business name or logo, signaling that your mark is federally registered. 

Ultimately, registering your trademark is a strategic investment that can contribute to the long-term success of your business.

An illustration of the key trademark benefits for your business, including legal protection from infringement and business credibility.

Trademark limitations

While trademark registration comes with many legal protections, it’s important to understand the limitations and scope of protection. Here are the key limitations to be aware of: 

  • Trademark owner duty: As the trademark owner, you must address and take measures against individuals infringing on your trademark rights. 
  • Geographical limitations: Trademark protection only extends across the US (or the location where your trademark is used and registered). 
  • Continuous use requirement: To maintain trademark rights, continuous use is required. Failure to use your trademark for an extended period can lead to an invalid trademark. 
  • Identification of goods or services: Trademark protections only apply to the goods or services the trademark is registered for.
  • Expiration and renewal: Trademark rights have a limited timeline, typically 10 years. To maintain protection, you’re responsible for renewing your application. 

Understanding these limitations can help you navigate the boundaries of your trademark rights more effectively. 

Run your business with confidence

As a small business owner, learning how to trademark a name is a pivotal step in building your brand. From increased legal protection and nationwide recognition to boosting your business credibility, trademarking a name is a worthwhile investment for many. 

Take the proactive step to register your trademark, safeguard your brand, and set the stage for long-term business growth. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to consider accounting software, like QuickBooks, to further future-proof your business and keep your finances organized.

How to trademark a name FAQ

Recommended for you

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.