Soon after you have the brilliant brainstorm for your business, you realize you need to name it. No matter how you arrive at your company’s name, chances are you put a good deal of time and money (think letterhead, packaging, etc.) into it quickly thereafter. So why not protect it from being used or stolen by someone else?
Federal trademark registration can serve as a type of insurance policy for your business name or logo. Registration gives a company or individual the right to prevent others from using names or logos that are “confusingly similar” to the registered mark. This can be an effective tool in a company’s marketing arsenal and a valuable asset, especially as a business grows and becomes more identified by its name or logo. So what does it take to obtain a federal trademark, and what exactly does that mean?
- Not Confusingly Similar – In order to obtain a federal trademark for your name or logo, you must first be sure that it is not “confusingly similar” to any other registered marks. If your mark is similar to an existing mark and the goods/services for your mark are related to those of the existing mark, chances are your mark can not receive federal trademark protection.
- Good or Service? – What are the types of goods and services? The United Stated Patent and Trademark Office uses the International Schedule of Classes of Goods and Services as the classification system for trademark registrations. Depending on what you use your name/logo in connection with, it may be wise to register your mark in more than one class (a filing fee will apply for each class).
- Use in Interstate Commerce – If you offer your goods or services solely within one state, and make no sales outside that state, your mark will not qualify for federal trademark registration. The key word there is offer – if you have a website where you advertise your goods or services, your mark will qualify, because your website reaches far beyond the borders of your state.
- Not Generic or Merely Descriptive – Finally, once you have cleared the other hurdles, your mark must not be merely descriptive or generic. But what do these words mean in relation to trademarks? A law office run by a person named Davis called “Davis Law Office” would quite likely be considered generic without some additional unique flair (a logo or particular typeface, for example). Similarly, a line of pens with blue ink called “BluePens” would likely be considered merely descriptive.
Even with all four of these factors on your side there are nuances to every trademark application. However, reviewing the above list in relation to your name or logo will help you determine if federal trademark protection is an option to protect your intellectual property.