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Do I need a trademark?

It takes a lot of effort to build a successful business identity. Advertising, lucrative contracts, testimonials, word-of-mouth recommendations—all of this represents a serious investment on your part, and it’s an investment you want to protect, since the brand you build is key to future success. Businesses have many options to protect their identities, and one of those is a trademark. Whether a trademark is right for your business—and what kind of trademark—will depend on several factors.

Trademarks: What They Are, Why Theyre Important

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design—or a combination of these—that’s used to set goods and services apart from others. Corporate logos and slogans all fall under this category. By filing for a trademark, you’re securing your business mark against unauthorized use by competitors and other entities.

By simply creating a logo and using it, you already have what’s called a “common law” trademark, and your right to protect it comes from the actual real-world use of a business identifier. Common law trademark exists whether or not you’ve registered. However, there are several advantages to official trademark registration, especially at the federal level:

  • Serves as public notice of your trademark ownership
  • Establishes a presumption of ownership in court
  • Allows you to bring lawsuits for trademark infringement
  • Can form the basis for overseas trademark registration
  • Can prevent the importing of goods that infringe your trademark

State Vs. Federal Trademarks

Trademarks exist at the state level and the federal level, so what kind of trademark you file for depends on the type of protection you want. State trademarks offer little protection beyond what’s already available in common law trademarks, and if you want to do business across state lines, you’d have to apply for trademarks in each individual state, which is time-consuming.

Federal registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is much more efficient and robust, since it provides greater legal protection in all 50 states and never expires. It’s a long process—often 10 months or more—but trademark protections are backdated to when you filed. Most businesses choose this option.

What About Overseas?

Intellectual property laws vary widely by country, and USPTO protection only applies within the United States. If you’re doing business in foreign countries, you’ll need to file for trademark in all the relevant markets. This can be a complex process, so an experienced intellectual property rights attorney should be your guide.

Your approach to trademark and business identity is ultimately up to you. Whatever you choose, you want the greatest level of protection possible for the amount of time you want to invest. Remember, though, that your business will hopefully be around for a long time. An ounce of protection now can save a ton of headache later.

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