Along with the millions of other steps a startup must consider, registering for a federal trademark is of utmost importance. Failing to do so can result in a few disastrous (and expensive!) scenario’s such as: someone stealing your brand name, a trademark infringement lawsuit or being forced to change your businesses name after the business is already established. No one wants to deal with a suit or losing business because you have to recreate your brand.
Here are a few tips on how to obtain a federal trademark and why it should be at the top of your to-do list:
- First things first: Get a lawyer. Don’t navigate this yourself. Make sure your lawyer does a thorough state, federal and common law search. Incomplete searches are a major reason most applications are rejected by the U.S. Government. Your business attorney will most likely be able to refer you to a trademark attorney or use the American Bar Association’s search to locate one.
- Choose a name that can be protected. Tungsten Branding recommends using this scale to identify the types of trademarks and the levels of protection they can obtain:
- Generic – not subject to trademark protection
- Descriptive (describes the goods/services as opposed to merely stating what they are) – protectable as a trademark only after acquiring “secondary meaning” (recognition) in the relevant marketplace
- Suggestive (slightly more cerebral than descriptive, but still identifies the goods/services on its face—think Facebook®) – protectable
- Arbitrary (think Apple® for computers) – protectable, and subject to a greater scope of protection than suggestive marks
- Fanciful (made up words, think Exxon®) – afforded the greatest scope of protection
- Don’t be fooled. The trademark process can be lengthy, frustrating and cost some dough. Be prepared that maybe your first choice won’t be accepted. It’s widely recommended to come up with a list of around 50 names you’re willing to run through the search process. Also note that application fees are non-refundable. An additional reason why hiring a lawyer is a good idea before applying.
- Be prepared to wait. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. You will receive a response within 6 months of filing.
- Being trademarked is not a once and for all deal. You must maintain your patent or it will expire. Don’t do all that work for nothing.
- It’s worth it. Receiving a trademark protects intangible property and can be very useful if you ever want to see your biz or attract investors. A trademark can be bought, sold or licensed just like any other form of property (think: MLB, NFL, NBA, etc.).
As you already know or are learning, doing the grunt work up front to protect you and your company is always worth the extra time and energy and much better than putting out fires later. But anything worth doing is worth doing well as the saying goes, right?