Registering a trademark is something both new and “old” entrepreneurs wonder about; these trademark tips will help you decide if you should make your logo legal.
If you’re an entrepreneur on your way to success (or you’re already running a successful small business!), it might make sense to protect your creative genius by registering it as a trademark.
Before the tips, a quip:
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ~ Benjamin Franklin.
One of the smartest things you can do is take some time to bone up on the facts about trademarks. Here are a few essential tips for registering a trademark and making your logo legal…
How Important is Registering a Trademark?
Anyone can apply to register a trademark, and if you have a product or service with a unique identifier (name, logo, slogan, etc.) it would be wise to consider registering. Think about it. You’ve made the leap from pipe dream to success. Your company is up and running and your appointment calendar is full, or products are flying off the shelves, or maybe you’re blogging your way to a six-figure income. It wasn’t easy. There were lots of sleepless nights and endless 18-hour days. No doubt you put a lot of creative energy into your project as well–energy that can’t be measured by spreadsheets or bank balances. Maybe customers tell you they love your business slogan or logo, or you’re positive the catchy play on words is the reason everyone is buying your product.
Now, how would it feel if you learned that some creep had stolen your catch logo or slogan and was using it to promote his own shady imitation of your product or service? What would you do? How could you prove that the slogan was yours? How could you get the creep to stop? If your slogan is a registered trademark, your bases are covered. That’s why you might want to make your logo legal.
What Is a Trademark and What Does Registering a Trademark Do?
A trademark distinguishes your business’s goods or services. It can be a name, logo, a slogan, a device, or even the packaging your product comes in. No matter what your trademark is, it assures your customers that they are getting the product or service they want. Some famous examples of trademarks are Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” as well as the always-present, check-styled logo on Nike gear; Google’s unique typeface and color, as well as the name itself; and the red bull’s eye used by Target Stores.
A trademark assures the consumer of a level of quality and performance they have come to expect from a particular manufacturer or service provider. There is no confusion about the product. If you want running shoes, and you want them to be of Nike caliber, when you see the Nike “check” logo on the shoe, or see the slogan “Just Do It” on the tag, you are certain this product is of “Nike quality.” The trademarks are Nike’s guarantee to you that this product meets a certain standard. Ditto for Starbucks coffee, or State Farm Insurance (“Like a good neighbor….State Farm is There”). You get the idea.
I’ve Used My Slogan For Years – Why Make My Logo Legal Now?
If you’ve been in business for a long time, using your logo (or name, or device, or packaging) without a problem, you might be wondering, why go through all the hassle of registering it as a trademark at this late date?
You could be right; it may not be necessary to make your logo legal now. There are common law rights that protect trademark owners, and often (but not always) these are enough to protect your use of the trademark. By law, in most instances (but not all), trademark rights are held by the party who first uses the trademark, not by the party who is first to file a trademark application. In this situation, you could very well be protected.
You are more vulnerable, and should seriously consider registering a trademark, if you plan on expanding your business to a national level, if you are selling a retail product, or if you are concerned that someone would steal your original name, logo, slogan or device. By registering your trademark, you put yourself in the driver’s seat should you ever have to protect your interest in a court of law.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Register a Trademark?
No, trademark applications do not need to be prepared by an attorney. However, you may wish to consult with one to help you understand the process. Additional information can be found on the official websites for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), or the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), and at the Nolo Self Help Law Center.
There are many useful self-help books on making your logo legal. One of the best is Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name by Stephen Elias.
If you have any questions or comments on registering a trademark or making logos legal, comment below!
To learn more about running a successful small business, read a business consultant’s career tips.
Written by Gail Armanini, a freelance writer whose professional career has encompassed the legal, education and healthcare arenas. Visit her at GailArmanini.com.