The Trademark Process

A trademark protects a word, phrase or symbol that is used to identify a business or product. An example of a trademark is the Nike "Swoosh," or McDonald's Golden Arches. A company that has created a unique design or "mark" for their business can apply for a trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO will not grant a trademark for just any mark; the mark has to meet certain requirements. Some of those requirements include:

  • Mark is unique.
  • Mark has to be something someone else in not likely to come up with.
  • It is not a surname or a person's name or likeness.
  • It is not offensive.
  • It is not geographically descriptive of the origin of the goods or services.
  • It is not a translation of a foreign word or phrase that is generic or descriptive.
  • It isn't a book or movie title.

Do Your Research

Before you apply for a trademark, you will want to make sure your idea is not already being used by someone else. Your search should be a thorough as possible because the USPTO will also conduct a search when they receive your application. If they find a match or a conflict, your application won't be accepted. You can start with a web search for your trademark but you should also check using the Trademark Electronic Search System on the USPTO website. If a match is found, you will have to create a new mark if you want it to be trademarked.

If your chosen mark is not in the database, you could keep using the mark without getting the trademark. If the mark has never been used you can use it without registering it, but you cannot use the trademark logo, you won't be able to bring legal action in a court of law and you cannot enter your mark into the USPTO database.

Apply for the Trademark

You can apply for a trademark online at the USPTO website. The fee to apply as of 2014 is $325 and that is due with your application. You will also need to supply the following information:

  • Applicant name and address
  • A drawing or sketch of the mark. You will also need to categorize the mark as either a "standard character" drawing, which is a mark with only an image and no letters or words, or a "special form" drawing that is a word.
  • A description of the goods and services the mark will represent. If there is a variety of items, choose the most popular. You should choose as many as you can so you describe the mark as thoroughly as possible.

Once you have applied for the trademark, check the status of application. When you apply, you will get a serial number. After three months, the trademark will undergo a legal review. If the trademark is approved, it will be published in the Official Gazette for 30 days. This gives others a chance to object to your trademark in the event it is similar to another mark. After this period of time, if there are no objections, you can use your trademark.

Getting a trademark is a time-consuming task. Receiving assistance from an experienced legal representative can help you navigate through the process. A legal professional could also help ensure that your trademark is maintained so it does not become an every day word and render your trademark moot.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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