The United States government has three ways to protect intellectual property, trademarks, patents and copyrights. Each covers different types of property. Patents are how you protect inventions. Copyrights protect the artistic creations of writers and artists. According to the definition the government uses, "Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactures ... and to indicate the source of the goods." A trademark can be renewed indefinitely as long as it is still used in commerce.
Review the United State Patent and Trademark Office website (see Resources below). The majority of the trademark process can be performed using the programs on the USPTO website. Read the definition of intellectual property, particularly for the types of property that can be trademarked. Read the booklet "Basic Facts and Trademarks," which can be downloaded from the site. If you need more information, call the trademark office at 1-800-786-9199.
Search the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) for the trademark you wish to use. Before you can trademark your idea, you must first be sure no one else possesses that trademark for your type of product. For designs, you will need to conduct a search for the design code. Review the "Design Search Code Manual" on the USPTO website to find the code you need.
Prepare a description of the goods or services you want to trademark. Review the "Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual" if you need assistance.
Produce a clear example of the mark to be registered. The mark can be done in standard character format or in a stylized format. The mark can not contain a mixture of standard and stylized characters.
File the trademark application using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) program on the USPTO website. The application fee needs to be submitted with the application to begin processing. When the process is complete, you will be given a summary and a serial number to track your application.
Review the result of your application when the USPTO sends it to you. It can take several months before you hear back from them. You can use your serial number on their website to track the application through the process. If the application was incomplete or there was some other issue preventing the trademark from being registered, you can file an appeal. If the trademark was accepted, keep the paperwork sent to you, and follow the renewal process as outlined to keep the trademark from lapsing.