Trademark Registration Basics

Trademarks protect a company's image and brand. Registering a trademark is important to restricting other companies from creating similar products and riding on your coattails. Here are some trademark basics in a simple question and answer format.

What is a trademark?

A "mark" is anything a company uses to identify itself or its products in commerce. A registered trademark is a mark that has been filed with a governmental agency that has granted exclusive use of that mark to a specific company. Registered trademarks include company names, logos, slogans, packaging, jingles, color schemes, and even scents.

Why should I register a trademark?

Registering a trademark allows a company exclusive use of the mark. All other companies are assumed to be "on notice" that the mark has been registered. If another company uses a mark that creates a likelihood for confusion, even unintentionally, the owner of a registered trademark can prosecute the infringement and receive significantly more in damages. Finally, only registered trademarks get to use the trademark symbol (®) in their marketing and advertising.

How do I file a trademark registration?

Trademarks are registered with a state's Secretary of State for state-level protection or with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. P.T.O.) for national- and international-level protection. Registrations must be filed for each industry and each individual mark claimed, so the process can become complicated.

How long does the process take?

Once a trademark is filed, an examining attorney from the U.S. P.T.O. will review previous filings to see if the trademark can be registered. During the review process, examining attorneys often find problems with the filings and issue office actions for the applicant to clear up. Each office action is reviewed on a 3-month rolling review, and the average trademark undergoes two to three office actions. If the examining attorney is satisfied with the filing, they will submit the trademark to be disputed by the public for 30 days. All told, most trademarks will be registered roughly nine months after the initial filing.

How long does trademark protection last?

The wonderful thing about registered trademarks is that they can potentially last forever. So long as a company keeps the mark in use and updates their filings, the trademark's protection can last forever.

How much does the trademark registration cost?

Registering a mark with a state will often cost less than $50 per mark, but the protection is relatively weak. National registration from the U.S. P.T.O. costs anywhere between $275 and $350 per mark. However, because the internet has changed the way many businesses operate on an international scale, I often recommend international filings which cost from $750 to $1,050.

Is there anything else about trademarks I should know?

Trademark registration is dependent upon the mark itself, as well as the industry in which it is used. Therefore, a simple mark can easily have dozens of registrations. Even then, without a proper trademark search, a company can spend thousands of dollars and not receive a single registered mark. Trademark law is complicated and very different from other types of law, so it helps to have an experienced trademark attorney guide you through the process. In other words, do not rely on the lawyer that got your divorce to be able to file your trademark. Finally, if you plan to hire a trademark attorney, expect to spend roughly $2,500 to $5,000, which will cover a comprehensive search, a proper filing covering all of the areas in your business, and the support to handle the subsequent office actions.