Creating a new business or product can be exciting. You’re full of the energy and promise of the future and you or your marketing team have come up with some amazing branding for your new venture. You may have even secured the domain name!
The first time you talk to a business attorney about your new business or product, they’re likely to ask you if you also did a trademark search – then want to conduct one of their own. A trademark is a word, phrase, design, or other characteristic that people will use to identify your brand. Words and images are the most common form. Even if the name you want to use is free, it may be substantially similar to another mark and thus not something you can register or have other issues. This is a conversation you want to have early on in the naming process before you’ve developed a brand and significant marketing materials around the mark.
You can file your trademark either with the state of Minnesota, which only gives you state-wide protection, or with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Filing with the USPTO is the most common choice as it gives you national (but not international) protection for your mark. If necessary, your lawyer can also help guide you on filing for international trademarks.
When you register a trademark, you’re giving notice to the nation of your use of the mark. This means that if another business tries to use the mark, you can ask them to cease using the mark and enforce your right to be the sole user of the mark. This makes a lot of sense. UPS, for example, is a well-known package delivery service with a set reputation. If another company started up and called themselves UPS, even if their branding was different, it may be confusing to customers who have relied on the old UPS in the past. The original UPS would ask the new UPS to change their name or risk a trademark infringement lawsuit.
There are some rules, of course, about what types of product or service marks can be trademarked. A completely made up word, much like pharmaceutical companies use for new drugs, is likely to receive a trademark without any issue. When you get into using words or phrases that are more descriptive of the goods or are completely generic, getting a trademark might be more difficult. Using a term that is close to a well-known brand may also be problematic.
Having an attorney file a trademark for your business or product is a fairly inexpensive process, though they do take a while to process. Once you’ve received a trademark, you can place the ® symbol next to your mark.
The attorneys at Virtus Law Firm can help you determine if your business name would be a good candidate for a trademark, whether you want to trademark in Minnesota or with the USPTO, and explain to you both the benefits and duties that come with a trademark. For more information, reach out to us at 612.888.1000 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our attorneys want to help protect your business so it can grow.