How To Register A Trademark

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Understanding Trademarks and Their Importance for Businesses

A trademark is a valuable form of intellectual property that identifies and distinguishes a business from others in the market. It can be a word, phrase, logo, or design that represents the business and its products or services. Registering a trademark gives exclusive rights and legal protection to the business against misuse.

When a business registers a trademark, it becomes the sole owner and has the right to take legal action against anyone who tries to use it without permission. For example, KFC's famous phrase "It's finger lickin' goodTM" and Target's iconic concentric logo are both registered trademarks. This ensures that these businesses can protect their unique brand identities and maintain their distinct presence in the market.

The Different Types of Trademark Formats

In the United States, the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows businesses to register trademarks in three different formats:

  • Standard Characters: This format includes plain characters for names and phrases, such as Nike's trademarked slogan "Just Do ItTM".
  • Special Form: Logos, stylized names, and other designs fall under this format. For example, Nike's iconic swoosh logo or a stylized version of their brand name.
  • Sound Mark: This format includes jingles, sound effects, and other auditory elements that identify the business.

While registering a trademark in standard characters provides broad protection, businesses must register specific designs or logos in special form to protect them. This is also necessary for names or phrases that include nonstandard characters, such as underlining, emoticons, or superscripts.

When to Register a Trademark in Special Form

If a business wants to protect a specific design or logo, they must register it in a special form. This is also necessary for names or phrases that include nonstandard characters, such as underlining, emoticons, or superscripts. It is important to register a trademark in the appropriate format to ensure complete protection and avoid any legal conflicts.

The Process of Federal Trademark Registration

Before registering a trademark, it is crucial to conduct a clearance search to ensure the name or design is not already in use. Once this is done, the following steps can be taken to register a federal trademark:

  • Prepare a trademark application
  • Determine the appropriate class of goods and services for the trademark
  • Gather necessary information for the application, such as the business owner's name and address, drawing of the trademark (if in a special form), and sound file (if it is a sound mark)
  • Choose the filing basis - "use in commerce" for established businesses, or "intent to use" for new businesses
  • Provide evidence of current usage (such as photographs) if filing under the "use in commerce" basis

Maintaining and Protecting a Registered Trademark

Registering a trademark does not automatically guarantee complete protection against misuse. The trademark owner must actively monitor and take legal action against any infringements. It is also essential to regularly file the appropriate forms to maintain the trademark. According to Emily Poler, a partner at Poler Legal, trademark holders should also proactively protect their trademark by sending cease-and-desist letters and opposing the registration of similar marks.

It is crucial to note that trademarks are not valid for a lifetime and require evidence of usage to maintain their registration. The application process can take over a year, so it is best to begin the process well in advance to protect the business's unique brand identity.

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