Trademarks (or service marks for service providers) are designed to protect proprietary branding and other content from being used by a competitor.
With the amount of resources businesses spend on branding efforts these days, trademarks have taken on a new significance as a tool for safeguarding your investment in marketing and branding.
The process of acquiring full trademark protection can be time-consuming and potentially costly. Although the decision about whether or not to pursue trademark protection may sound like a no-brainer, there are some instances in which a registered trademark might not be the best use of your resources.
If you aren't familiar with trademarks, the decision-making process begins with understanding trademarks and how the benefits they can provide your business.
Trademarks provide protection for words, phrases, symbols, or logos that are used (or are intended to be used) for business purposes. In practice, they secure the way businesses differentiate their products from other products and brands in the marketplace. Like copyrights, trademarks do not need to be registered. You can simply include the ™ symbol after your product's name to identify your mark.
However, trademark registration with USPTO may offer important benefits. In addition to officially notifying the marketplace about your ownership of the mark, registration legally reinforces your ownership interests and can be used as a basis for the acquisition of an international trademark. Registration can even be used by customs to preclude the import of products that infringe on your mark.
Trademark or No Trademark?
The decision to pursue a trademark ultimately boils down to the value of the mark itself. If the word, phrase, symbol, or logo is an integral part of your company's business model, the decision to pursue a federal trademark registration is straightforward. However, if the mark is only a temporary part of your business or a single element in a short-term marketing campaign, a trademark registration probably isn't necessary or appropriate.
If your company plans to expand your business model outside of your local geographic area, you may also want to delay a trademark registration since interstate commerce is a requirement for a federal trademark registration.