At long last, you've got your new business, product or service raring to go! The bulk of the set-up is finished. Your business model is ready. You've even crafted a catchy icon or image that flawlessly encapsulates your new brand, and chances are, you have already dreamt up a logo that you envision printed in a glossy magazine! So catchy and ingenious are your ideas, that not only will they be remembered...they may be used by others. And not for the purposes of promoting your brand.
The only surefire way to ensure full protection of your intellectual property is to register your trademark - which means you'll keep exclusive rights to that brilliant catchphrase you came up with. This is a basic overview of how to register your trademark, but keep in mind that in practice, the process can be tricky and messy enough to require lawyers. So consider the steps below only as a very general and simplified summary.
First Step: Before you lose any blood, sweat, or tears over the registration process, make sure that a trademark is indeed what you need. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark will protect a "word, phrase, symbol or design, or combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others." Looking to protect your product or your poem? You'll need patents or copyrights, not trademarks. These three types of federal protections are frequently mixed up. Just think of it this way: Trademarks protect the reminder of your products or services, not the products or services themselves.
Second Step: This tends to be the goriest part, and is technically optional: research. However, it is highly recommend that you do this. The very last thing you want is to waste your time, money and prayers on submitting your current idea - only for it to already be in use! So re-fill that mug of coffee and hop onto the USPTO website and thoroughly search through their database to make sure that your dream trademark isn't already in existence. This online database, called the Trademark Electronic Search System, is provided free of charge.
Step Three: Are you in the clear? Great! Now you can draft your request. Come up with a description of your trademark, of its use and what it represents. Consult the USPTO's Acceptable Identification of Goods & Services manual to ensure that your trademark-in-waiting will qualify for registration. Now, if you're looking for a design trademark, create a GIF or JPG image file of your design. Otherwise, be ready to type it in during your online filing.
Step Four: Now you're ready to officially file. Have ready your credit card, your design (if applicable), and your time, so that you can complete this step with minimum complications or delay. As of 2010, the fee is $325. Yes, it indeed costs money to file. But remember, the benefits of a trademark should outweigh the cost! Going back on the USPTO website, select "Filing" from the "Trademark Electronic Business Center." Click eTEAS to file electronically or alternatively, choose printTEAS to merely fill out the application electronically (which you will then print out, attach your drafts to, and mail to the PTO with payment). Carefully follow their directions every step of the way. Quick note: Since you're going to be using your trademark commercially, select "Actual Use" when asked.
Step Five: Exhale again! You've now filed, and all you'll need to do is wait to see if your request is approved. You will be assigned a serial number for your request, so that you can check on the status of your submission using their TARR system. Bear in mind that it'll take at least four months to receive a Certificate of Registration, should your request be accepted. So as excited as you may be, you've got to be patient!
Step Six: Meanwhile, you can start using "TM" notation after your brand's name, logo or design to convey that it is an unregistered trademark - right now! This will provide some protection, but only a limited amount. However, once you receive your Certificate of Registration, the coveted R-in-a-circle (designating a registered trademark) will be yours to use. Good luck!