Trademark a brand

1. Research the uses and limitations of registering a brand trademark in your country and state.

A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies your goods or services. Trademarking your brand name and logo provides important legal protections. The word trademark can describe either a trademark for physical products or a service mark for intangible services. The process to register either one is identical. Trademarks protect your business from competitors who want to profit from the use of your logo or a facsimile of it. For example: Airbnb’s trademarks prevent hospitality, hotel, and bed & breakfast competitors from using an identical or very similar brand logo. However, Airbnb’s trademarks don’t prevent competitors in unrelated industries, like CPG (consumer packaged goods) or business subscription services, from using a similar name or logo. You won’t be able to register a trademark for: Generic words or phrases that relate to your business. For example, a hardware store won’t be able to trademark the word Windows, while Microsoft can because it isn’t a common word in the tech space. Existing trademarks. Your trademark application may be rejected if another business with a similar name or logo already operates in the same space and communicates with the same audience. Finally, trademarks are limited by jurisdiction. A trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office only provides legal protections within the United States.

2. Register your brand trademark in your state.

Registering a trademark in your state affords limited benefits, but provides initial legal protections. Each state has a different registration process.

3. Decide whether you need to hire an attorney, based on your business location and personal expertise on trademark law.

Any business with a primary address not in the United States must work with an attorney licensed to practice trademark law in the U.S. For all U.S-based businesses, hiring an attorney is optional. The USPTO strongly recommends attorney involvement for all trademark applications due to five key benefits: Legal advice for making a strong trademark claim. Accuracy in filing the trademark application and all related documents. Resources to perform a clearance search for trademark availability. Help with enforcing legal rights once the trademark is granted. Help with any formal and informal appeals if the application is rejected. Note, however, that hiring an attorney will increase your application costs by $1,000 to $2,000. Extra costs may also apply for potential appeals and follow-up processes.

4. Perform a clearance search on the US Patent and Trademark Office website to ensure that your logo and name aren’t already in use, and no close substitute in your space exists.

While a clearance search in the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) doesn’t guarantee trademark availability, it greatly increases your chances of success. Follow these steps: Select Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form). Enter the exact phrase you want to trademark in the search field, using quotes for exact matches. For example, a search for Best Value Designs should read Best Value Designs. Search for close substitutes and similar spellings of the same term. For example, a close substitute of Best Value Designs may be BestValueDesigns or Best Value Design. Use an asterisk to search for terms that begin with the same word or words as your brand mark. For example, search for Best Value* to find all registered trademarks that begin with Best Value.  Use the boolean operators AND, OR, NOT, ADJ, SAME, and NEAR to narrow or expand the search. Review the Word Mark section of each set of results to learn which trademarks have already been registered. Use the USPTO’s Design Search Manual to search existing graphics and logos. Avoid filing registrations for identical word or design trademarks in your industry. Consult with an attorney if you find any terms or graphics that may look similar.

5. Decide whether you want to file a TEAS Standard or TEAS Plus application.

You can register your trademark with the USPTO using one of two options: TEAS Standard: Fewer initial requirements, but a higher filing fee of $350 per class of goods or services. You’ll still need to submit the entire application before the final approval. TEAS Plus: more up-front requirements, but a lower filing fee of $250 per class. There are many pre-submission requirements. However, most attorneys recommend it because you’ll need fewer follow-ups.

6. Gather all materials required by the USPTO for the application.

Both TEAS Standard and TEAS Plus require similar information, which you can gather ahead of time: The owner of the mark, including both the name and address. If your business has already been incorporated, the owner should be the business entity. The type of mark, standard or stylized: For stylized wording or design marks, you’ll need a JPG and a description of the logo. The type of good or service the mark will represent. The more specific, the higher the chances of being accepted. Use the USPTO’s Guidance on Identifying or Classifying Goods or Services.  The Filing Basis or reason for needing a trademark. Choose current use or intent of future use. You’ll need both a description and a sample of how the mark will be used in a commerce setting. Any additional statements that explain unusual cases, such as prior registration of the same mark or consent for the use of someone else’s name or portrait.

7. Submit the application in the USPTO's online Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).

Sign in or create a new account on the USPTO’s TEAS website. Once you start your application, you can save it for completion later. Follow the instructions on the screen to complete the application and submit the $250 or $350 filing fee when prompted. Note the reference number.

8. Check the status of your application at least every six months and follow up as required.

The USPTO reserves the right to reject any trademark application when a request for additional information isn’t satisfied within six months. Frequently check the status of your application using the Trademark Status & Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. Wait for about a week after submission to begin checking your application status. Meanwhile, the USPTO will assign its own attorney to oversee your application. After the first week, check your status using your reference number. If your application is rejected, the USPTO’s attorney may send you an office action letter. The action letter clearly outlines what information is necessary to continue processing the documents. You can upload any additional information to the TSDR system.

9. File maintenance documents periodically to keep the trademark active, starting five to six years after the initial registration.

Trademarks can last indefinitely with two stipulations: The trademarked name or logo must be actively used for commerce. If you stop using it, delete the registration in the USPTO’s database to avoid any fees. The USPTO requires regular Declarations of Use for active trademarks after the fifth year of registration, after the ninth year of registration, and every ten years thereafter.