- Form a Company Now! +
- Services +
- Compare Prices +
- Learning Center +
- HBS Blog +
- Make Payments +
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark or service mark, “includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”
A trademark is typically the business name or company logo; it is important to have a unique, memorable name or emblem so your customers can easily identify your business amongst your competitors.
No. A “trade name” is basically the name that you’ve used to identify your company. It offers no legal protection or limitless rights for the use of that name; it is just the name. Trade names are registered on the state level, meaning a specific name may be available in one state but not another. For more about this scenario, read about using a DBA.
A patent, as defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, is: “a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.”
An inventor must file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office within one year of the first day on which the invention was described in a printed publication, in public use, or on sale to preserve the rights to have a United States patent. Maintenance fees for a patent must be paid 3 ½ years, 7 ½ years, and 11 ½ years after the patent is granted.
A trademark, as defined above, is used to distinguish and identify a product or brand from others. Whereas the patent prevents others from making and selling a specific product, a trademark provides exclusive rights to certain words, phrases or images used to indicate a specific product.
When starting a business, registering your trademark, logo, and/or business name should be an important consideration. Below are six benefits of registering your trademark.
BENEFIT 1: Even though unregistered trademarks that are used in connection with the sale of goods or services may have some legal protection, the burden of proof is much higher should someone copy or infringe upon your creation.
Having a registered trademark on file gives the business owner additional protections, including presumed ownership, and diminishes the burden of proof.
BENEFIT 2: By registering the trademark, you ensure that your trademark is not similar to any other registered trademarks. If you accidentally infringe upon someone else’s name or trademark, you could be sued by the registered trademark owner and may have to pay legal fees and fines as well as give up all profits obtained under the unregistered mark.
You could also be forced to pay damages to the owner of the registered mark. If you then have to rename your company or create a new logo, you will lose even more money to new marketing materials. You could also possibly lose customers from the ensuing confusion over your product or identity.
BENEFIT 3: Registering the trademark ensures that other companies will not have a similar trademark, and gives your company exclusive rights to operate and market under said trademark.
BENEFIT 4: Your trademark could also provide the right to legal action against anyone that infringes upon it. Once you have your registered trademark, you can record it with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will ensure no counterfeit goods are imported.
BENEFIT 5: You can use the symbol, “®” after your trademark, which indicates your mark is federally registered, adding to the prestige of your company.
BENEFIT 6: If your company wants to expand into other countries, you can use your federal registration for foreign trademark filing.
The simple answer is: as soon as possible, for the six reasons stated above. Most business owners start to explore the trademark process before even forming the company. It can become quite costly in legal fees to have to amend the company name, should you accidentally infringe upon someone else’s registered trademark.
Information surrounding all the registered trademarks in the United States Patent and Trademark office can be found at uspto.gov. You can conduct a search and do the necessary research in order to ensure there is not another registered trademark like yours.
Many of our clients have hired an attorney that specializes in trademarks, as the process can be heady and complicated. Should you wish to conduct a trademark search or try to complete the application procedure on your own, feel free to reach out to the Trademark Assistance Center at TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov or call 1-800-786-9199.
*Disclaimer*: Harvard Business Services, Inc. is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm and, even in cases where the author is an attorney, or a tax professional, nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. This article provides general commentary on, and analysis of, the subject addressed. We strongly advise that you consult an attorney or tax professional to receive legal or tax guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Any action taken or not taken based on this article is at your own risk. If an article cites or provides a link to third-party sources or websites, Harvard Business Services, Inc. is not responsible for and makes no representations regarding such source’s content or accuracy. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Harvard Business Services, Inc.