I get a lot of questions about trademarks and, based on the type and quantity of questions I get, I suspect there is a need to clear up some basic issues that are common to trademarks in general. While this post is a bit longer and more detailed than some or my other posts, I hope you find it useful as you contemplate what a trademark might mean for you and your social media presence. Enjoy.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is any “device” (think word, symbol, color, sound, etc.) that serves to identify the source of goods or services.
There are several different kinds of trademarks. You can have a “common law” trademark which simply means you have adopted a trademark and you are using that trademark to identify your goods and services. There is no formal registration necessary for a common law trademark and you can put the “TM” symbol by your trademark to signify that you claim rights in your trademark.
You may also register your trademark with your state agency, typically the Secretary of State or similar government office. This can provide some limited protection for your trademark within the borders of your state but won’t be enforceable outside of your state. As with the common law trademark above, you can use the “TM” symbol.
For maximum protection, under United States federal law, you can register a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and own it forever (if you pay periodic maintenance fees). Once your trademark is registered at the USPTO, you can use the “®” symbol to let everyone know that your trademark is registered at the UPSTO and protected by federal law.
Do I Need A Trademark?
“Need” is such a strong word. Seriously, no one absolutely “needs” a trademark but if you want to build and protect your brand, and control your image, and create lasting value for your business, a trademark can be pretty important. Additionally, if you decide to sell your social media assets in the future, a federally registered trademark will be a significant asset. Finally, registering trademarks is what serious business people do.
When you see a trademark like the ones in the graphic image above, you can immediately picture the goods and services associated with the specific logos shown. That’s the power of a strong trademark. Your trademark can create images and impressions in your customers’ minds that will help you keep them coming back for more. I personally believe that every small business owner should own and register their trademark(s). Here are a few examples.
David Tutera was a speaker at Snap! a few years ago. He talked about how he created his business empire and he also provided some inspiration and guidance to the audience on how to build their own business. Mr. Tutera has no fewer than 17 federally registered trademarks.
Pinch of Yum is a well-known food blog run by Lindsay and Bjork. They have two federal trademark registrations to protect their brand from infringers.
The fact is, most successful businesses, even small businesses, register their trademarks as part of their business development process. Trademarks are business assets and can increase the value of your business.
While registration of your trademarks is not legally required, it can be very important if someone is using your trademark or something that resembles your trademark. Your competitor may be diverting traffic from your blog or social media accounts by confusing your customers. If your trademark is registered at the USPTO, you are far more likely to get a quick result with less time and money being required to reach a positive outcome. If you work with an attorney, it will certainly help them help you.
Do I Need to do a Trademark Search?
So, once you decide you want to get a federal registration for your trademark, are you required to do a trademark search? The short answer is “no.” A trademark search is not required. However, you should be certain that your trademark is not already being used by some other person or business for similar goods and services or you may be guilty of trademark infringement. Not good. I typically recommend at least a simple search to get an idea of how unique a trademark is and whether or not infringement is likely.
How Much Does it Cost?
If you go to the USPTO website, you can search existing trademarks for no charge. However, you should be aware that trademark searching can be a complicated and tricky thing. If you hire an attorney or professional search service to do the search for you, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400 – $1,000 for a decent search. If you want to include foreign trademarks, you will likely pay more.
The cost to register your trademark can vary quite a bit. You can go to the the USPTO website and prepare and file the application for registration on your own. However, every application requires an application fee that is paid to the USPTO. The fee will range from $225 – $325, depending on how you file your application. If you hire an attorney to help you, you can expect to pay the attorney $500 – $1,500 to get your trademark registered at the USPTO. After your trademark is registered, there are periodic maintenance fees that must be paid, typically a few hundred dollars every 5 – 10 years.
For many businesses, their trademark is one of the most valuable assets that they have. The more a business can connect their trademark to their products and services in the mind of the consumer, the more valuable the trademark becomes. If you think it’s time to consider registering and protecting your trademarks, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s talk about it.
Remember – Be Smart. Be Legal
Disclaimer – Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. All information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice for any specific person or specific situation.