A trademark, often called a “mark,” is a word, phrase, design or symbol that a business uses to market a product or service. In fact, a mark that a business uses to market a service is actually a service mark, but the word “trademark” is used for both products and services because they receive the same legal protections. When a business has a trademark, it has rights under federal and state laws that safeguard other people and businesses from using similar words, phrases, designs or symbols that could be easily confused for the trademark. Here are a few top tips for businesses to follow when it comes to trademarks.
Register Your Trademark
Although a business acquires common-law trademark rights by using a trademark, it is good practice to register a trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office as well as the U.S. Customs Service (for imported goods). Advantages of federal trademark registration include proven trademark registration, a legal presumption of ownership of the trademark and peace of mind to use the trademark without the fear that another business has been using something similar for a longer time.
Registering a trademark establishes a date of ownership. Say that you are Company A, and Company B files for the same trademark one week after you file for yours and starts using the trademark before you use yours. Because you filed first, you ultimately own the trademark as long as your application is in order.
Search First to See If Your Trademark Is Registered
Businesses should conduct searches first to see if their trademark is registered. They should actually do this relatively early in the trademark development process to save time if what they are creating already exists. The Patent and Trademark Office website has the free Trademark Electronic Search System, and your business might prefer to hire an attorney or firm to run the search.
Have Only the Trademark’s Owner File for Registration
The person or legal entity who owns the trademark should be the one to file for federal registration. Otherwise, the application will be void. If deciding on an owner, look at issues such as who controls the mark’s use as well as the type and quality of the products or services to which the trademark will be connected.
Many businesses prefer to have experienced attorneys file their trademark registration papers, but such a move is not required.
Maintain Your Trademark
Once your trademark is registered, be sure to use the trademark and to maintain the registration. You have six years after initial registration to prove to the Patent and Trademark Office that you are using the trademark. You must prove use again before the 10th year after registration. After that, you only need do so every 10 years. To show use, you file a declaration listing the items you sell that have the trademark registration, submit a photograph of the trademark as it appears on your products or service offers, and pay required fees. You must also pay separate, more costly fees for actually renewing your trademark registration.
You Can Sell, Trade, Loan and Lease Trademarks
Trademarks are business property, and in some cases, the most valuable asset a business has. There is a lot you can do with them. The U.S. Trademark Exchange is one common and reputable way for businesses to find trademark buyers. When someone buys your trademark, you must file an agreement of assignation with the Patent and Trademark Office. It is important to note that you must show use of your trademark before selling it. No placeholders allowed.
If you see other businesses use your trademark, it is a good idea to take action. Otherwise, courts might later see your inaction as implicit approval of others using the trademark. Be careful to keep using your trademark and renewing it, or else your ownership rights will decrease and ultimately vanish altogether.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.