A trademark is a type of intellectual property. It’s a word, name, symbol, or device that differentiates the owner’s goods and services from those of other companies. Examples of well-known trademarks include the Nike “swoosh” symbol and the McDonald’s golden arches.
Related: Trademark Registration: Name Or Logo?
Now, you may be wondering whether you need to register your trademark. You’re not required to register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in order to use it. And in fact, trademark rights arise from use in commerce, not registration. But it’s almost always a good idea to register as a way to deter others from unauthorized use of your trademark and, failing that, to enforce your rights.
Deter Others From Using Your Trademark
Imagine for a moment that your name is Mike and that you want to open a theme-park. The crown jewel of your park will be a gold-painted roller coaster in the shape of an “M”—an homage to the first initial of your name. If you haven’t realized this by now, you’re a bit of a narcissist and so naturally you decide your logo should be a golden “M.”
Well, you may be a narcissist and you may never have been to McDonald’s, but you’re still a cautious businessman. So before you start buying up billboards you decide to look into whether someone else is already using your logo. It doesn’t take long for you to realize that you’ll need to go back to the drawing board, unless you want to be sued into oblivion by McDonald’s.
This silly example illustrates a serious point: trademarks that are registered with the USPTO are a strong deterrent to would-be infringers. Having a registered mark signals to others that you own the mark and have the exclusive right to use it in all 50 states in connection with the goods or services covered by your registration. In the face of this, most reasonable businesspersons will opt to use a different mark to represent their business.
Enforce Your Trademark Against Infringers
Of course, deterrence can only take you so far. Not everyone will bother to conduct a trademark search before using a mark and some people will use your mark despite knowing it’s been registered. Having a registered trademark becomes even more important under these circumstances as a means of enforcing your rights.
With a registered trademark, you can use the court system to seek injunctive relief (which stops the infringer from using your mark), to recover monetary relief from the infringing party, and even to obtain attorney fees in certain cases.
But enforcement doesn’t have to mean filing a lawsuit, particularly when it comes to online use of your trademark. Let’s say you found someone using your trademark on Instagram or Facebook. If you’ve registered your trademark, it’s not hard to contact these platforms and ask that you be given the page or name protected by your trademark. The odds are good that you’ll have success doing this if you can point to a federally-registered trademark. Without one, it’s really your word against the infringing party.
Registering your trademark is a good idea. It’s not particularly expensive and it provides a strong deterrent to would-be infringers, as well as a clear mechanism for enforcing your rights. Keep in mind that the registration process can take the better part of a year and so it’s worth getting started as soon as you have a brand to protect.
-Before getting started with the registration process, take a read through our post on trademark search and clearance.
-Once you’re ready to register your trademark, take a look at this post for a step-by-step guide to applying for federal registration.
-If you’ve already filed an application to register your trademark, and if you’ve received an office action, you may find this post instructive.
Photo: Kevin | Flickr