If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, you probably don’t need to be told how important it is to protect your company name and logo. The hit to your business if some other company started using your name or logo could be substantial. Trademarking your company’s name and logo is one of the best things you can do to protect your intellectual property from infringement.
You can use the trademark (TM) logo without having a registered trademark, but registering your mark is what gives you the right to take intellectual property infringers to court. You should trademark your company’s name at the same time as or soon after you file for incorporation. You’ll need to make sure your company’s name isn’t already trademarked in your state, and register your company’s domain name, too. You don’t necessarily need the help of a lawyer to register your trademark; you can use an online service to register your trademark yourself.
When to Register Your Trademark
Choosing the right time to register your trademark is one of the first dilemmas many beginning entrepreneurs face. Under United States law, there is such a thing as common law trademark rights, which begin with the first use of a company or product name or logo. You can use the “TM” designation to protect your trademark while you’re in the process of formally registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
However, common law offers limited trademark protection, especially if you want to fight for your trademark rights in court. That’s why you should register your trademark as soon as possible, preferably before you start using it. Most trademark law experts recommend registering your trademark at the same time that you file for an LLC or other incorporation. If you want to reserve a trademark for use on future products that aren’t quite ready for market yet, you can file an “intent-to-use” trademark application. With this application, your trademark will become registered once you begin using it on your products.
Steps to Take Before and After You Register a Trademark
One of the biggest benefits to registering your company trademark before you begin using it is that you’ll have the opportunity to make sure no one else in your state is already using the name you wish to trademark. You could be putting yourself at the risk of a lawsuit if you infringe on another company’s trademark, even accidentally. Before you file for a trademark registration, check the national trademark database to make sure the name you have in mind isn’t already taken. You’ll want to avoid choosing a name that’s similar to any existing trademarks, too. Another company with a trademark on a similar name might feel that you’re infringing on their property rights and take you to court.
Once you’ve registered your trademarks, you’ll need to take some additional steps to protect your company name. You’ll want to register your domain name to protect against cybersquatters, who register companies’ domain names themselves in an attempt to profit from those domains by selling them back to the rightful owners at a steep fee. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 offers some protection against this practice; familiarize yourself with your rights. If you need to take action against a cybersquatter who is using your domain name illegally, contact the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Do You Need Legal Help to Register a Trademark?
In most cases, you don’t need the help of an attorney to file a trademark application. You can use an online service like LegalZoom to file your application for a reasonable fee. You’ll need information about the goods and services you plan to market under the trademark, as well as information about any logo or design components you’d like to trademark, and dates of first use.
If you’re trademarking the name of an Internet business, leave off the domain extension; this will prevent other companies from registering the same name with a different extension and siphoning off your business.
If you want to register a company name or logo that is similar to an existing one, or if another company is already using it even though you have a valid claim to first use, your application may be contested. Under these circumstances, you may need the help of a trademark lawyer.
Trademarking your company name can protect your intellectual property rights and, by extension, your company’s bottom line. You should trademark your company name and logo as soon as possible, preferably before you begin using it. With a registered trademark on file, you’ll have one less thing to worry about when operating your business.