How to Copyright a Term

By Loran Lewis
Trademarks often are associated with businesses.

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Technically, one establishes a trademark for a term rather than a copyright. Trademarks are commonly associated with businesses, but can also be used to protect creative words and phrases for marketing, such as T-shirt and bumper sticker slogans. When he was coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Pat Riley famously trademarked the term “three-peat” when the team was trying to win a third-straight NBA title.

Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO's) Trademark Electronic Search System (see Resources) to make sure the word or phrase has not already been trademarked. An in-person search can be conducted at the Public Search Facility at Madison East, 1st Floor, 600 Dulany St., Alexandria, Virginia 22313, or visit the closest Patent and Trademark Depository Library.

Get familiar with the rules for trademark, which are listed on the USPTO website, if the term is available. Much of the process is technical and detailed. You can access basic facts about trademarks or read Frequently Asked Questions. A glossary of legal terms is available.

Understand the difference between a drawing of the word (called a “mark”) and a specimen of it. If you plan to simply trademark the word, you only need a simple drawing or lettering. However, if you intend to use the word as a brand name or in an artistic style, you will need to represent how it looks and will be used on your application. Additionally, if you plan to use the word with a business or service, you will need to specify those details.

File the application with the USPTO. The application can be filed online or mailed in paper format. If you file an application online, you will receive a summary by email and your application will be assigned an immediate serial number. If you file a paper application by regular mail, it takes two to three weeks to receive a filing receipt. The filing receipt will include the serial number of the application. You will have to pay a nonrefundable application fee, which varies depending on the type of application you want to file, but is generally $275 to $375 as of 2010.

Wait for the response. Responses usually occur within four months, however, it could take one year to several years for the application to be processed fully, depending on the basis for filing and any legal issues that might be involved. You can monitor the application progress online, but you will need to refer to your serial number in all contact.

About the Author

Loran Lewis has been a newspaper reporter and editor for many years, including launching his own community paper. He co-founded a personal fitness magazine. In recent years, Lewis has taught college journalism courses. He enjoys sports, comedy and beer tasting.

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