A trademark or service mark may consist of any design, word or combination of words that identify the maker of a product or provider of a service. Logo symbols and brand names are commonly trademarked. You may acquire legal rights to a specific mark simply by using it in the normal course of commerce – this form of trademark is called a "common law" mark. Formal registration of your mark is not required but it offers considerable advantages. A mark can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and/or the patent-office counterpart (usually the Secretary of State) of any state in which you plan to do business, but federal registration of a trademark with the USPTO provides the greatest protection available.
Determine whether your title is eligible for trademark protection. Registration for trademark protection is generally limited to brand names, slogans and logos used in commerce. The title of a single work of authorship or creative work, such as a novel, is not eligible for trademark protection, but trademark protection may be available if the title is used to identify a series of such works.
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Conduct a search to determine whether your title is available for trademark registration. As noted, a mark may be registered with the USPTO as well as with each of the 50 states, and may even be established by merely using the mark in commerce. Before applying for trademark registration, you must search all previously created trademarks to determine whether your title will impinge on an existing trademark. You can conduct this search by using the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (link in Resources).
File your trademark application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System, or TEAS, available through the USPTO website. A variety of forms and USPTO-administered registers may be appropriate to registration of your title, so study these options carefully before selecting specific application forms and registers.
The process of registering a trademark involves several key decisions and can be challenging, depending on the specific circumstances of your application. If you have questions or concerns regarding the substance of your trademark application or the filing procedures, consult with legal counsel for assistance.
The TEAS system offers two application options: Regular TEAS and TEAS Plus. Filing with TEAS Plus is less expensive, and instructions for this filing option can be found in the USPTO's Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual. Alternately, you may file a paper application with the USPTO, but registration via TEAS is faster, safer and less expensive. Instructions for filing a paper application are provided in the USPTO publication, Basic Facts About Trademarks. Links to both documents are included in the Resources section of this article.
- Trademark Registration Practice; James E. Hawes
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS)
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademarks Homepage
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: U.S. Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual (ID Manual)
John Parker is the long-standing editor of an internationally distributed technology magazine. Since 1975, his wide-ranging writing career has encompassed diverse projects spanning from legal boilerplate to editorials to technology tutorials. Parker holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence.