New Business Trademarking BasicsNew Business Trademarking Basics

After starting a new business, many entrepreneurs wonder what they can do to protect their brand names and designs from being misused or stolen. Many business owners are unaware of the basic principles of copyright and trademarking and how they protect their business assets.

Can I Use Any Business Name I Want?

Trademark laws protect businesses so that no other company names, brand names, or symbols may conflict with those already in existence. When registering your company's legal entity with the state, you'll need to ensure (or they will by means of rejecting your application) that your business name does not conflict with any existing names registered with the state. Each state provides different application processes, but many states provide online databases to search existing business names. Simply registering your business name will not provide trademark protection, but is the first step in the process.

What is Protected by Trademark?

Any word, symbols, phrases, or designs that distinguish one business (or brand) from another is a trademark. Your business name and logo design will be the two most important parts of your business that can be protected by trademark. When working with a designer on your logo design, be sure that you sign a design contract that gives you full ownership and copyrights once your logo design has been completed. Otherwise, your designer may have the right to use, modify, or display your design in the future without your permission.

Do I Need to Formally Register My Trademarks to be Protected?

No, upon using your logo design or business name in public along with the "TM" symbol, you automatically stake your trademark claim. There is no requirement to file any paperwork with the federal or state governments. However, registering your trademark with the federal or state government will give you more legal protection than if you do not. Usually national US registration costs more than $300, while state registrations are a lot less.

How is a Trademark Different Than a Service Mark?

A Service Mark "SM" is often used to distinguish the provider of a service rather than a product, however the term trademark is used interchangeably to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

Should I Register My Trademark?

This is ultimately your decision, depending on how much you'd like to protect your business name or symbols. The majority of new businesses do not register their trademarks, and many don't even worry about claiming their rights by using the "TM" mark in public.

By registering your trademark federally you automatically provide public notice of your use of the trademark, you are legally assumed to be the exclusive owner of the mark, you have the ability to bring federal lawsuits against companies with conflicting marks, you have the right to use the ® symbol, and your trademark information will be listed in the government databases to be visible to others that are submitting trademark registration.

Am I Protected Internationally?

Unfortunately, even registered US federal and state trademarks are not protected outside of the US. However, many countries outside the US will use your US registration as a basis to grant you trademark rights in their country, if you apply.
by Elliott Michaels
References and Bibliography
Elliot Michaels has been in the identity design business for over 15 years and worked with major clients throughout the globe. Learn more about corporate trademarking basics.
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