If you have a business, the idea of getting a trademark might interest you. Despite the temptation, this process isn’t exactly straightforward and can leave many people overwhelmed by the costs and paperwork. The good news is that this process doesn’t have to become a total headache when you’re equipped with the right information and expertise. So read on to learn more about business trademarks and how you can easily and successfully make it through the registration process.
What Is a Trademark?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of other parties. A service mark, on the other hand, is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. However, these terms are largely used interchangeably and the process for each is largely the same.
Some examples of things that are commonly trademarked include brand names, slogans, and logos. For example, Nike can trademark their name “Nike,” their slogan “Just Do It,” and their checkmark logo. While trademarks are commonly associated with big brands, you definitely don’t have to be a big brand to trademark your intellectual property and creative assets! In fact, trademarks for small businesses are just as important despite the fact that they are commonly overlooked (see also business license across states).
Why Do You Need a Trademark a Business?
While it’s understandable that business owners with seemingly endless amounts of work may want to avoid the hassle of the trademark process, this is definitely something that you need to prioritize. After all, you wouldn’t leave your physical assets like your equipment and products unprotected, so why would you leave your name and likeness unprotected?
Your brand name is the basis of your brand identity. It’s often the first thing people know when you set up a business, so you definitely want to protect it against unauthorized use. As you probably know, competition is everywhere, and trademarks prevent competitors from using your likeness to poach customers. With that being said, it’s still important to note that not all instances of “copying” are intentional or nefarious. Nonetheless, no matter the intention, these scenarios can lead to tons of confusion from customers that can end up hurting your reputation.
But how exactly does a trademark protect your business? It’s not like a simple piece of paper is necessarily going to prevent someone from using your name, slogan, or logo in practice. While this may be true, there are enforcement mechanisms in place, specifically when you can take parties that are infringing on your trademark to federal court. Without a trademark, it would be nearly impossible for the court to rule on who has the right to use those images, words, and phrases.
Finally, trademarks make your business seem more legitimate. The trademark symbol is associated with big brands, and you can show your customers that you mean business when you also use the symbol. Legitimacy not only helps you gain customers, but it can also help you find investors. Many investors will look for proof of ownership and other signs of legitimacy before investing.
What Is the Process of Trademarking a Business?
As we mentioned previously, the process of applying for a trademark for your business isn’t very straightforward. However, we are going to help break it down for you so you know every single step along the way.
Step 1: Before anything, you need to determine what names, slogans, and images you want to trademark. If you already have an established business, this part should be easy. However, if you're a newer business you may have to develop your logo and slogan from scratch.
Step 2: Search the trademark database to see if there’s anything similar already being used by another business.
Step 3: Gather additional information needed for your application, including your mark format, goods and services identification, and filing basis.
Step 4: Prepare your application by creating a USPTO.gov account, accessing the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), and completing all necessary steps.
Step 5: Monitor your application status and complete any necessary actions in a timely manner to ensure the smooth processing of your application.
Step 6: Receive approval or denial of your application. Reaching this final step can take several months, so patience is key during this process.
How Much Does It Cost to Trademark a Business?
Much like the trademark process in general, figuring out the cost of trademarking your business isn’t straightforward either. In fact, the cost varies depending on your trademark class and your method of application. Applying online through TEAS will save you a lot of money, considering that filing a paper application will cost you $600 every time.
Within TEAS, there are several different applications to choose from, each with different requirements and fees.
TEAS Plus: Costs $225 per trademark class and comes with a lot of requirements in exchange for a lower cost. For example, you have to select from pre-approved trademark classes rather than requesting a custom class. You also have to pay the per-class filing fee immediately and agree to the exclusive use of electronic communication with the USPTO throughout the process.
TEAS RF: Costs $275 per trademark class and comes with fewer requirements. For example, you can request a custom class of goods or services. However, you still have to agree to electronic communication with the USPTO.
TEAS Regular: Costs $400 per trademark class and comes with little to no requirements in exchange for a higher cost. This option allows you to request custom classes of goods or services and request to receive paper communications from the USPTO throughout the process.
Other fees and information to keep in mind about applying for trademarks:
You keep hearing “per class” which means that if you want your trademark to belong to several different categories, you’re going to have to pay more. For example, if you file within the “cosmetics and cleaning products” class (see cleaning business), a different company within the “paper and printed material products” class could legally use the same brand name.
Each component that you want to trademark will require a separate application with a separate fee. For example, if you want to trademark your brand name, logo, and slogan, you’re going to need to complete three applications and pay three distinct application fees for each component.
The USPTO covers trademarks used within the United States. However, you can apply for an international trademark registration through the TEAS system as well. This option will protect your information in 80 countries that are signatories of the Madrid Protocol and costs $100 per trademark class. Applying for an international trademark registration is recommended if you’re an international business, conduct business online, or advertise on social media.
How Much Does It Cost to Maintain a Trademark?
In addition to upfront application fees, there are also trademark maintenance costs. In order to maintain your trademark, you need to prove that you’re still using it within the filing class. For example, five years after the initial registration, you should file a Section 8 affidavit with the USPTO that costs $125 per class through TEAS. Nine years after the initial registration, you should file a Declaration of Use and an Application for Renewal since a trademark expires after 10 years. This costs $425 per class online and will need to be completed every 10 years thereafter. It should all be a part of your business budgeting plan, though.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Trademark a Business?
Clearly, a lot of work goes into trademarking a business. As a result, many business owners consider hiring a trademark lawyer to guide them through the entire process. While this option might make your life easier, it will also make it more expensive. Most trademark lawyers charge between $500 to $2,000 dollars for their services. It’s really up to you to determine whether or not their services are worth the extra cost or whether or not you can go it alone. If you decide to seek legal help, some of the best formation services / registered agents like Nolo, Rocket Lawyer, Zen Business, or Incfile, are the ones to turn to.
Final Thoughts on Trademarks
Trademarking your business is a cost-effective way to establish your brand in the short-term and protect your likeness in the long-term. While these may seem like unnecessary costs to some, instead consider the cost of a competitor using your name to ruin your business. We believe that your business is priceless and encourage you to do everything you can to protect and grow it -- whether that’s applying for small business loans or establishing a trademark.