In my last blog, I explained the importance of protecting your business’ image once you begin to expand. The goal is to make sure nobody can come along and steal your brand out from under you. And this can be accomplished by obtaining trademarks and servicemarks for your company’s unique presence in the marketplace.
Generally speaking, trademarks are meant to guard a unique product created by your business and servicemarks are designed to protect a unique name, logo or tagline that identifies your business. If you’ll recall from my previous blog, logos, designs, slogans, taglines and even domain names all fall under trademark or servicemark protection.
But there is much more to getting this legal coverage than you might think. For this reason, I want to go into greater detail about the process of attaining trademarks and servicemarks for your business.
Let’s say your business is based in Chicago and it’s really starting to grow and gain much needed visibility in the marketplace. At this point, you should consider investing in the necessary protections so that nobody can steal your brand.
The good news is that you can safeguard your brand very easily by going online. The State of Illinois streamlines the procedure by providing all of the required applications that you need to fill out. For a $10 fee, you may submit your application and if approved by the Secretary of State, you will be awarded the exclusive right to use your.
However, even though your brand can’t be touched within Illinois, someone just ten miles southwest in Indiana could appropriate your brand. That’s because the applications you sent to the Illinois Secretary of State do not protect your company’s image beyond Illinois. So you might think about registering your brand in nearby states such as Indiana and Wisconsin as well.
But what if your company continues to grow and quickly becomes recognized in other regions of the country? You could take the time to send in trademark and servicemark applications to each state that potentially touches your business. Keep in mind, though, that the costs and the time investment may add up faster than you might think.
So, a more economical option may be to seek federally registered servicemark and/or trademark protection through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Washington DC. By taking this route, you’re applying for the exclusive right to use your brand in all 50 states and to have the right to stop someone from stealing your brand even if you are not currently doing business in that state. The federal application process is understandably longer, because the USPTO must conduct an initial search of its federal records to determine if any other businesses are already using a brand similar to your own. An examiner in Washington then has to do his/her own due diligence to provide a thorough investigation and ensure that nobody else owns or has applied to own, a brand similar to your brand.
In addition, the federal agency publishes your proposed brand name, logo and/or tagline in a national magazine. This publication is then sent to every intellectual property attorney around the nation. If your image is already in use by another business across the country, you can be sure the lawyer who represents that individual company will inform USPTO immediately.
While applying for a federal trademark/servicemark does cost a significant amount of money due to application costs and other fees, your business’ brand will be protected nationwide. Furthermore, by going through this procedure, you’ll also find out if other companies may already be using your brand, thereby avoiding possible future infringement claims against your business and your loss of the right to use marketing materials (Web site, letterhead, business cards) relating to this already owned brand. The result could be that you decide to tweak or slightly revise your brand. Then you may have the potential to stand out even more in the marketplace.
While your brand can be adequately protected by state or federal trademark/servicemark registrations, your business may also seek copyright protection of your brand images and taglines. By obtaining this type of protection from the U.S. Copyright office, you will be shielding original works that are published or unpublished. Typically, copyrights are designed for literary, musical, visual or other kinds of artistic creations. If this applies to your business, it may be wise to obtain a copyright.
But copyrights are a form of protection for the authors of “original works of authorship.” As such, a copyright may not cover titles, names, short phrases and slogans, lettering or coloring unless such image or information is sufficiently original and complex. For example, the Nike “swoosh” logo is extremely simple and would not qualify for copyright protection even though the image is protected as an invaluable trademark.
On a Final Note
The notion of obtaining trademarks and servicemarks can seem overwhelming at first. But it is not a complicated process. If you want to get this type of protection on a state-by-state level, you can get the applications online and fill them out by yourself.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer not to cherry-pick and you need protection that covers the entire country, I advise you to seek the expertise of an experienced intellectual property attorney. The interactions with USPTO and the federal examiner are much more involved than the simple state application process. So this is not something you should undertake without legal counsel.
Fortunately, DregerLaw has successfully handled many of these procedures and we are prepared to protect your company’s image on a nationwide level.