Trademarks are words, phrases, and symbols that help people distinguish between similar goods made or sold by different parties, such as different types of cola drinks. Generally, a pen name is not entitled to trademark protection unless it is associated with particular good or service, such as a comic strip, cookbook, blog or other writing. For example, "R. Crumb" is the name used by Robert Dennis Crumb. This pen name could be trademarked when used to sell underground comics.
Apply for a federal trademark. If your application is granted, you will be able to defend your trademarked pen name in federal court. The process of trademarking a pen name is similar to trademarking any other phrase. Go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office web site and let your cursor hover over "Trademarks" until the pulldown menu appears. Click on "Trademark Search." You will be directed to the Trademark Electronic Search System, also known as TESS. Click on "Basic Word Search." Enter your pen name into the search box and hit the return key.
Evaluate the search results by clicking on the "Check Status" box. Pay attention to how the search result is used. For example, if you want to use pen name "Pookie Poo" to sell a cartoon strip, that name may be entitled to protection even if it is already used as the name of a child's diaper service.
Return to to the USPTO home page. Hover your cursor over “Trademarks” until the drop-down menu appears. Click on “Online Filing.” This will bring you to a web page called “Online Filing: Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).” Under the heading “Forms,” click on “Initial Application Form.” When you are at the "Form" page, click on "1. Trademark/Servicemark Application, Principal Register." This will bring you to a page entitled "Selection of Application Type."
Evaluate the criteria needed to file a TEAS Plus form or a regular TEAS form and click the appropriate box. Click "Continue." This will bring you to the application page. Complete the required fields and click "Continue." Upload an image of your pen name when called upon to do so. The image can be a stylized signature, a printed name, or a design by a graphic artist. When you arrive at fields asking whether you are using the mark now, whether you intend to use it and whether foreign use exists, answer truthfully. Enter your credit card information and pay the fee.
Use the image of your pen name that you submitted to the USPTO. Take reasonable steps to prevent others from using your pen name in association with similar products. Continuous use of your trademark is your best defense if someone claims you have abandoned your trademark.
Determine if your trademark application was approved. Generally, you should get a response from the USPTO within three to six months. If your application is approved, renew it every 10 years if you want to keep the trademark protected.
Determine where you will sell most of your works. If your sales are largely in a particular state, consider applying for a trademark in that state. This step is optional because state trademarks provide limited protection. If someone uses your trademarked pen name outside the state, you will rely on your federal trademark to defend it. However, a state trademark can be useful for popular works that are sold locally.
Navigate to the Secretary of State's web site for the state where you will be selling works under your pen name. If you need assistance finding the correct web page, the USPTO web page entitled "State Trademark Information Links" can help. Once at the Secretary of State's web page, download the trademark application form and complete it. File the completed form with the secretary of state and pay the required fee.
Applying for a federal trademark does not require an attorney. However, if the USPTO does not approve your application, you may want to hire an attorney to appeal the decision.
- Citizen Media Law Project: Securing Trademark Rights: Ownership and Federal Registration
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: U.S. Trademark Law
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Online Filing: Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS)
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: State Trademark Information Links
- California Secretary of State: Trademarks and Service Marks
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images