A trademark is a symbol or combination of letters or words that distinguishes the products of one seller from those of all others. Whether it consists of a symbol, such as a stylistic logo, or simply words, such as a tag line or slogan, a trademark must be unique. Securing a trademark can be accomplished in its most basic form by simply using it in commerce, but formal trademark registration of a slogan offers valuable benefits.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, defines a slogan as “a brief attention-getting phrase used in advertising or promotion.” To qualify for federal trademark registration, the slogan must be new, unexpected or unique. Your slogan must not use the name of any living person without consent, disparage specific people, or be "immoral."
Research the Slogan
Because a proposed tag line or slogan must be unique and distinctive, you should conduct a thorough search before using or registering your slogan to ensure that an identical or confusingly similar slogan is not already in use. The USPTO maintains a online database of all marks for which it has granted federal trademark protection and for which prior applications for trademark protection are pending.
A trademark may also be registered with the various states, so you might search the trademark database of each state in which you may do business. You might also search online for unregistered slogans, because prior use in commerce of an identical or confusingly similar slogan may bar registration of your slogan, whether or not that competing slogan has been registered.
Use the Slogan in Commerce
Simply using a slogan in commerce before all others can create an exclusive right to use the mark, so you should keep evidence of your use of a slogan. However, this right may be enforced only within the specific geographic or trade area in which you have used it.
State Registration of the Slogan
A qualifying slogan may also be registered with the state or states within which it is or will be used. The office of the Secretary of State typically serves as registrant of trademarks. However, the right to exclusive use of the slogan as a trademark will only be protected within that state.
Federal Registration of the Slogan
To ensure nationwide protection of the exclusive right to use the slogan, you must register it as a federal trademark. Applications for registration of a slogan as a trademark are made using the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Application System, or TEAS, which can be accessed online. Your application must include the slogan spelled out in full, a listing of the goods and services that will be promoted with the mark, a statement detailing how the slogan is already used or will be used in commerce, and an image of a specimen of the slogan in use, such as a photo of a tag upon which the slogan is printed and attached to an actual product. A filing fee is also required.
Advantages of Federal Registration
Federal trademark registration of a slogan creates a public record of exclusive ownership of the slogan. This can serve as a foundation for trademark registration in other countries, and it supports the filing of a lawsuit in federal court to protect the trademarked slogan and to collect damages for violation of the exclusive right to use the trademarked slogan. A federal trademark supports recovery of up to three times the actual damages suffered due to violation of the trademark.
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Protecting Your Trademark
- Inc. Magazine: Types of Trademarks
- Inc. Magazine: How to File a Trademark
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Examination Guide 1-12
- Digital Medial Law: Naming Your Business: Searching for Trademarks of Others
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
- Thomson Reuter: Thompson Compumark
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images