Registering a trademark is so simple it can be done lawyer-free from your home computer. But it is a lengthy process that can take 1+ years to finalise.
When paired with the right brand and marketing, trademarks rake in serious dough. Owners can create licensing deals, sell paraphernalia, and block infringers.
We went through all the steps ourselves (with a framed certificate to prove it!), studied the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) site, and spoke with an intellectual property attorney for John Hopkins University about the process.
A trademark is a brand name like 'McDonald's,' 'Starbucks,' or 'Apple.'
It is NOT an invention. It is not a design or font, per se.
It is any word, name, symbol, device, or combination used in commerce to distinguish which products belong to a certain manufacturer. Basically, a trademark indicates the source of sold goods.
Not every brand name needs to be a registered trademark. But owning a trademark has advantages, especially if someone tries to mimic your brand. When you own a trademark, you are protected by law and can more easily ward off copycats.
Before you go through the trademarking process, read this primer.
A mark must be original in spelling and/or category to be considered. For example, both Delta faucets and Delta airlines are registered marks. Even though they share the same name, they are not competitors because they operate in different industries (travel/airlines vs appliances).
If your application has been accepted, then the USPTO believes it can become a registered mark. In other words, lawyers have reviewed it and do not believe it will damage anything currently protected. Congrats!
When this happens, a mark moves on to the Intent-to-Use (ITU) stage.
If your application is rejected, an office action response can be filed. Fill out this paperwork if you'd like USPTO to reconsider and give the mark a second look. You must respond within six months, otherwise your mark will be considered abandoned.
The USPTO will publish your application in a weekly Official Gazette.
If another party thinks your mark might damage theirs, they must either file an opposition or ask for an extension of time within 30 days.
If no one protests, the mark is yours to use with a (TM).
If no oppositions occur, you'll receive a Notice of Allowance (NOA) within 12 weeks of your mark being published in the Official Gazette. Then the clock starts ticking.
You'll have 6 months to use the mark in commerce. Once the mark has been used (i.e. a product with the mark has been successfully sold and you have proof of purchase), a Statement of Use (SOU) must be filed.
If you need more time to sell a product, you can pay a fee and file for a six month extension.
When you file a SOU, you must send pictures of the products you've been selling as well as proof of purchase (receipts, etc).
Successfully filing the SOU will move your mark (which you've been using with a TM) from the intent-to-use stage to a full-blown, registered trademark (R)!
Beware of the unavoidable $100 SOU review fee.
If the SOU is approved, you'll be mailed an official certificate. Frame it and hang it proudly in your home or office.
To keep your trademark active, all you have to do is fill out some maintenance paperwork a few years later. The first batch is due within five to six years of receiving your official certificate; the second batch between the 9th and 10th years of owning your mark.
Disgruntled third parties can still try to cancel your mark for up to five years. After that, the trademark becomes incontestable.
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