Do you have a registered trademark for your business? Do you need one? For a small regional business or a new startup company just getting going the thought of registering a trademark for an eCommerce business may not be at the top of the priority list. Making it a higher priority could be a sound business investment.
When starting a business, especially a startup or ecommerce business with strong growth aspirations, performing a trademark search on your business and unique product names may be time well spent. Getting a year down the road and with your business growing rapidly is not when you want to find out that you are infringing on someone else’s registered trademark.
There are quite a few terms, requirements and nuances in registering a trademark for your business. In this post I touch on the basic trademark concepts, benefits of a trademark, options for registering a trademark, steps in trademark registration and additional resources for more information. There is much more to be considered when registering a trademark.
Important Note: This article is not meant to provide any form of legal advice. For professional trademark assistance you should contact a legal firm or attorney.
What is a Registered Trademark
Let’s start with the basics. What is a registered trademark? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO):
“A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Some examples include brand names, slogans, and logos. The term “trademark” is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks. “
“Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set term of years. Trademark rights come from actual “use” (see below). Therefore, a trademark can last forever – so long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services. A trademark registration can also last forever – so long as you file specific documents and pay fees at regular intervals.”
Trademarks are identified as a mark – ™ or as a registered mark ®. These symbols can be used in retail stores, a business website, in online marketplaces (Amazon, eBay, Etsy) on product packaging, and on branding, advertising and marketing material. The USPTO stipulates how and how often the marks need to be used.
Important Note: You don’t receive a federally registered trademark when you register your business with your state or incorporate your business. Receiving a registered trademark is a separate process through the USPTO.
Registered Trademark Information and the USPTO
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a great deal of information about trademarks and registered trademarks. Here is a good starting point: USPTO Trademark basics.
The USPTO also has a series of informative videos with a wide range of information about trademarks. If you are new to the area of registered trademarks check these out. USPTO Video Series – Basic Facts about Trademarks
Benefits of Having a Registered Trademark For Ecommerce and Retail Businesses
Forty years ago Ecommerce Business wasn’t really a thing. Local retail business didn’t face the same challenges as a nationwide or international business or brand. Like many other areas the Internet changed that.
In the rapidly growing and changing world of online commerce having a registered trademark for your business can provide significant benefits and protections. There are a number of reasons why you would want one or more trademarks for your ecommerce business including:
A. Protection for Your business – A US registered trademark can protect your company name and other trademarks from being used by others. It can also protect unique product names and logos. A business with a registered trademark has clear legal recourse against anyone using or infringing on the registered trademark.
B. Protect Against Brand Damage – a trademark can protect your brand from damage and counterfeits. In the online world you can protect your brand on a nationwide or international basis from being damaged by other people using it, copying it or counterfeiting your products. Other businesses using your branding without permission can potentially cause significant damage to your brand, loss of sales revenue, negatively impact perceptions of your products and your business. Counterfeiting is theft.
C. Trademark Protection In Ecommerce Marketplaces – Some ecommerce marketplace platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Walmart, provide added opportunities for businesses with a registered trademark. A good example of this is the Amazon Brand Registry program which is a free program that requires a business to have a registered trademark to join. The Brand Registry provides a number of added marketing opportunities, counterfeit protection, and analytical data to Amazon Sellers who are part of the program.
D. Intellectual Property Protection and Value – A business name, logo, slogan, product names, domain names and social media profiles are forms of intellectual property (IP). Protecting that IP, especially with a startup, ecommerce or entrepreneurial business is a sounds strategy. In many business instances intellectual property adds value to the business. Registered trademarks can also add value to a business if it is sold or acquired.
F. Brand Image – A registered trademark for a business, especially a startup company or a fast growing ecommerce business can potentially convey authority, longevity, even strength when used regularly and effectively.
G. Performing a Trademark Search – A comprehensive trademark search is an essential part of the process in applying for a registered trademark. Even before applying for a trade mark, a search of the USPTO database, state databases and other locations for a your business name and other items you wish to trademark can verify that no one else has trademarked your name, unique product names or logo (less likely). This can avoid unforeseen and potentially costly problems in the future.
A Lesson in the Value of a Trademark
A recent article on registered trademarks and intellectual property (IP) brought an aspect of trademarks into focus. The U.S.-based online outdoor goods retailer, Backcountry.com based in Park City UT and their legal counsel decided to take action against a huge number of companies that used the term “backcountry” in their names.
They filed lawsuits against a large number of smaller companies including American Backcountry, Backcountry Babes, Marquette Backcountry Skis, Backcountry Denim Co., Backcountry Nitro, Cripple Creek Backcountry and others. (Read more here…)
How Do I Get A Registered Trademark for My Business?
There are three basic ways to get a registered trademark. Each has pluses and minuses. A key factor, as with many things, may be your budget. Here is a short description of the options:
1. Filling the registration application yourself. DIY. Avoid the upfront costs of a professional service or attorney by doing the research, performing a comprehensive trademark search, completing and filing all forms, and handling any correspondence with the USPTO. With this option you could utilize a range of online information, resources and research tools. Would require much more time than the other options.
2. Hire an online legal service such as Legal Zoom, My Corporation or Rocket Lawyer for example. There are quite a few other listings online. In general these services will do a trademark search, review what is being trademarked, and prepare and submit the application to the USPTO. Final cost can be affected by the effectiveness of the trademark search any complications in the application that arise.
3. Hire an attorney or law firm that provides trademark services. An attorney will likely cost the most but will also handle all aspects of the trademark registration process including responding to any communications from the USPTO during the process. The scope of the trademark search may be greater when performed by an attorney. Another potential benefit of working is with attorney is that they will notify you when it is time renew your trademark. The USPTO will not.
There are pluses and minuses for each trademark registration option including cost, time required, and the potential for errors and delays. There may also be issues or questions that pertain to a specific business or niche. Your best option may be to explore all three of these potential avenues to see which one works best for your needs and requirements.
Main Steps in Getting a Registered Trademark:
The process and steps in getting a registered trademark can vary based on what is being trademarked and the specifics related to the business and the mark. As with many things the process is not a one-size-fits-all, complications can arise based on search results and the mark being registered.
The high level elements of trademark registration and ownership include:
- Identify your mark that will be trademarked – business name, logo, product name some or all.
- Do a trademark search to determine if any entity is already using the mark you want to trademark.
- File a trademark application – application fees for filing with USPTO can range from $225 to $325.
- Monitor and respond to any and all communications from the USPTO.
- Receive your trademark.
- Use the trademark regularly and file a Statement of Use.
- Maintain your registered trademark status over time and keep it up to date.
- If your business is international consider filing for registered trademarks in other countries.
Domain Names, Social Media Presence And Trademarks
Your business name, logo or product names are not the only facets of a trademark strategy. Also consider your domain names (URLs) and your social media properties and profiles. If you are registering your business name how does it mesh with the domain names you own? How do your social media properties and profiles fit with the registered trademark? Be sure to include these in your trademark search when registering.
How to generate those odd little marks from a computer keyboard
We’ve all gone through it at one time or another – wondering how one generates the actual symbols for a trademark or a registered trademark. Here is how:
Trademark symbol: ™ and Registered Trademark symbol ®
On a Windows computer:
Use a keyboard combination of pressing the [ALT] key followed by the keypad number sequence of “0153” to insert the TM symbol
Use a keyboard combination of pressing the [ALT] key followed by the keypad number sequence of “0174” to insert the R registered trademark symbol.
On Apple operating systems
Hold the [Option] and “2” keys at the same time to insert the TM trademark sign
Hold the [Option] and “R” keys at the same time to insert the R registered trademark symbol.
Additional Thoughts From A Registered Trademark Owner
Here are a few words of wisdom, based on experience, from Susan RoAne, Keynote Speaker, and author of How To Work A Room ®. She has extensive direct experience applying for, using and monitoring trademarks and copyrights over the last 30+ years:
“One aspect of hiring an attorney: Only hire an experienced Patent and Trademark Attorney not cousin Joan who is a lawyer but NOT a patent and trademark attorney.”
“Another important benefit about hiring an attorney of note: They will remind you of when it’s time to renew. The USPTO will not remind you when it’s time to re-up.”
“Once you get the patent, trademark or registered mark, get Google Alerts on that name or term so you know who is using it. And then can address their misuse or infringement.”
Trademark ownership and protection can be a valuable asset for a business. As the value of your business grows your trademarks will also grow in value.
In creating this article one thing became clear, be sure to get sound advice when registering a trademark. There are many good free or inexpensive resources available. However, the process is not as simple as it might seem. Having professional help with the registration process can be a very solid investment.
If you have the budget for it, get a trademark for your business name at the minimum. Just doing a trademark search can be informational and verify that no one else has already registered a trademark for your business name.
If you don’t have a trademark, have wanted to trademark your business name or haven’t even thought about a registered trademark for your business, now would be a good time explore the issue. There are plenty of resources online, business consultants and attorneys that assist you.
If you are a new business or getting ready to start a business give serious thought to a registered trademark. Before you invest a lot of time and money into building your business and brand name, make sure someone else isn’t already using it and that you can register a trademark for that name. And then register it before someone else does.
Related Posts on Trademark Registration from Other Sites
“How to Do a Trademark Search Before Choosing a Business or Product Name” “Searching for unregistered trademarks is important because even if a trademark is unregistered, its existence could prevent you from registering the trademark in your own name or from even using the trademark legally.”
“5 Trademark Strategies for Your E-Commerce Business” – An informative article with one perspective on developing an optimal strategy for ecommerce business trademark registration. It is focused on ecommerce businesses and provides some very useful insights.
“Trademarks and Social Media: What Small Business Owners Need to Know” – “Here are a few tips on how small businesses should handle trademark issues in the world of social media.”
“Why every retailer needs to register a trademark” – “Before investing extensive time and money developing your brand, it is essential for you to determine whether your brand infringes on any existing business.”
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