With DBA 101, we covered how an assumed business name (aka DBA for doing business as an assumed name, trade name, fictitious name, or false name) can be used for your business. Here, we’ll explain how a trademark or service mark can help protect your brand.
What it is: source identifier. Understanding that a trademark is supposed to help consumers identify the source or origin of a good or service helps to properly frame the benefits and risks of registration. A word, slogan, logo, design, or other device can be used to tie a business to whatever it produces or does. A trademark identifies the source of goods, while a service mark points to the provider of services.
You can use superscript “TM” for goods (™) or “SM” for services (℠) without a registration, but can only use the ® symbol with a registered mark.
What it’s not: patent or copyright. Different types of intellectual property registrations have different lifespans and afford different protections. Patents are monopolies granted by the government for 20 years if you can prove an invention is yours. Copyrights last for the life of the author plus 70 more years for original works. Trademarks can last forever if you register and continue to renew.
What’s the point: goodwill and reputation. By having a trademark registration, no other person or company can use the same name, slogan, logo, sound, smell, or other device to sell the same goods or provide the same services as you. If they try, you are able to bring claims of infringement and get them to stop plus paying damages for any harm to your brand.
Trademark law only protects distinctive marks. There are also varying degrees of strength of a mark. The most protection applies to fanciful/arbitrary or suggestive connections, while generic or descriptive words that are more closely associated with the goods or services get less (or none). As an example, Apple is a strong mark for computers, but weak for fruits.
Registration process: patience. Applications generally take anywhere from 8-12 months to be processed and reviewed by a trademark examining attorney within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Here is a link to current wait times: (https://www.uspto.gov/dashboard/trademarks/application-timeline.html). There are several types of applications available, including the principal or supplemental register, and an intent basis or use basis. Filing fees range from $250-$350 per mark per class depending on how you apply. Here is an overview of the fee structure: (https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/trademark-fee-information).
TEAS stands for the Trademark Electronic Application System. The TEAS Plus application is the less expensive and more streamlined option, but requires a complete application and you must select from certain descriptions of your goods/services instead of creating your own. The TEAS Standard application allows you to create your own description and submit an initial filing even if you don’t have all the information required for a complete application. Before a mark is registered, there are often responses from the USPTO called office actions, which require responses from applicants to get over certain holdups or hurdles.
Renewal: use it or lose it. A trademark registration will expire unless the owner files renewals. The first is required between the fifth and sixth year after the registration. Between the 8th and 9th year, another renewal is required. After that, you have to renew the registration every ten years, so between the 19th and 20th year, 29th and 30th year, 39th and 40th year, and so on. With each renewal, you have to prove that you’re still using the mark in association with the same goods/services, so it will live on as long as you need it to enforce rights against others, but it will die/expire naturally if you don’t continue to use it that way.
Picture on the top is by Kanan Khasmammadov and is in the public domain.
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