Consumers’ preferences are influenced by trademarks and service marks and the reputation such brand represents. Trademarks and service marks are referred to as “marks” and are the names, logos, and slogans that your business uses to identify its goods or services. Hopefully, when a consumer sees your mark, it sparks recognition of your product and signifies a certain level of quality. Surprisingly, even though marks can be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office in order to prevent others from using such marks, many business owners overlook this process which would help protect their valuable brand.
Why Protect Trademarks and Service Marks?
Since many companies’ goals include having consumers identify it as the provider of particular products or services simply by spotting its unique name, logo, or slogan, marks have a lot of value to the business. The most valuable marks are unique marks. Once the words and images are created, a company invests resources to market its products and build value or brand its business based on the name, logo or slogan. A company that does not protect its marks risks losing control over its marks as competitors selling competing products or services use the same name, logo or slogan. Such action by competitors may diminish the reputation of a company’s product or service due the possibility of inferior quality of a competitor’s product or services or the inability of consumers to distinguish between the company’s product or service and that of competitors.
Since marks are an integral part of a business’s identity and are a critical way for consumers to locate the goods or services that they seek, it is in a company’s best interest to try and protect these marks as best it can. Without protection, the value of the company’s asset is at risk and its legal rights are limited. At worst, a competitor may begin using the same or similar mark with limited, if any, repercussions.
Registering Your Trademark with the USPTO Provides the Strongest Protection for Your Brand
The strongest protection of your mark is federal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). The main advantages to federal registration include: (1) being able to claim the mark is yours and having the evidence of the validity of your registered mark, your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use and license the mark, (2) preventing competitors from capitalizing on your investment because registration puts all persons on constructive notice of your ownership rights in such mark, (3) being able to bring a claim for infringement in federal court, which allows you to recover lost profits, damages, costs, treble damages, and attorneys’ fee for others’ use of your mark, and (4) being able to use the registration to stop the importation of goods bearing an infringing mark into the United States.
These advantages of federal registration allows you to control your brand and its reputation. It also strengthens your negotiating power if you find another company using the same or a similar mark. Having a federally registered trademark also decreases the chances that someone else will begin using the same or a similar mark, since a basic check of the USPTO’s public database will show the existence of a registered mark.
You can request federal registration whether or not you have begun using the mark. If you have begun using the mark, your application will describe the goods or services which the mark identifies and will include proof of how you are actually using the mark. For example, if you are selling vehicles under a particular name, you will give the USPTO a picture of the vehicle, or a screen shot showing the vehicle and how to purchase the vehicle, which should show the mark. It usually takes the USPTO about 12 months to approve the marks once you have filed an application.
Even if you have not yet begun using the mark you can file an “Intent to Use” application with the USPTO, which states that you will begin using the mark in the future for particular goods or services. Once the USPTO approves the application, you have six months to provide them with proof of use (subject to certain limited extensions).
You cannot afford to hold off protecting the investment you have made in your brand. The USPTO charges as little as $275 to obtain trademark registration. If you currently have a registered mark with the USPTO, remember you must file a statement every five to six years during each ten-year registration period providing that you are still using the marks and pay the associated filing fee. If you fail to file this statement, the USPTO will likely cancel your registration despite the fact that your ten-year term has not yet expired. All this being said, the effort involved to comply with the USPTO’s specific timing and filing requirements pales in comparison to the protections afforded to registered marks.