If your company's brand is built around a distinctive logo or symbol you're not alone.
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Most businesses separate themselves from the competition with a distinctive logo or trademark for which they have exclusive rights. But here's the big question: Is your trademark protected and if not, do you know the necessary steps involved with making it secure?
There is only one way to adequately protect your trademark and that is to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the USPTO). As you might expect, the USPTO has an application process to ensure that there are no preexisting claims to the same trademark or to trademarks that are similar in nature.
The trademark registration process can be lengthy, but an application involves the following steps.
Trademarks do not automatically qualify for USPTO registration. For one thing, the trademark must already be used in interstate commerce, meaning that is must be used in conjunction with goods, products, or services that crosses state or international lines. Additionally, the trademark cannot already be in use by another company, previously registered, or on the list of reserved trademarks pending registration approval. Finally, the trademark cannot be so broad or generic that it lacks distinction or may be construed as a product type (rather than a descriptor).
There are some trademarks that the USPTO will not register under any circumstances. They include the names of living persons (unless they have given consent), the US flag, government insignias, the name or likeness of US presidents, and any word of symbol that disparages persons, institutions, or beliefs.
Notification & Publishing
If the USPTO determines that your trademark qualifies for registration, they will publish it in the Official Gazette, a publication that gives an opportunity for interested parties to object to the trademark's registration before final approval. Should someone object to your trademark's registration, the USPTO will schedule a hearing to determine whether or not there is any merit to the objection. If the objection has no merit, the application process can proceed. However, if there is a solid basis for the objection you will need to go back to the drawing board and start the process all over with a new trademark. All in all, the trademark application process can last a year or longer. In the meantime, you should include the letters TM with your logo to indicate that you claim exclusive use rights even though your registration has not yet been approved.
Trademark registrations are granted for a period of 10 years. They can be renewed indefinitely as long as the trademark owner completes the renewal process before each 10 year term expires. However, there is a catch that can significantly impact the validity of your trademark. Once your registration has been approved, the USPTO requires you to complete a statement (a Section 8 Affidavit) within six years of the trademark's registration date indicating that the trademark is still being actively used in commerce.