How to Start a Trademark

by John Cromwell

A trademark is a unique ''word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes'' the goods or services of a company from competitors, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Trademarks are important because they enable potential customers to identify the products of a specific business and brand(s) of the business. While a trademark does not need to be registered, federal and state registration is important because it can prevent your competitors from using your logo to advertise their own products and effectively steal customers. If you have the trademark, only you get to use the mark.

Step 1

Create a unique mark. Your mark should convey the identity of your business and what its brand identity is. Research your mark to ensure it is not too similar to any mark in use. There are services online that will research your mark for you, for a fee. If you prefer to search yourself, you can check state databases and the USPTO trademark database.

Step 2

Add the mark to all of your company’s stationery, business cards, signage and products. To register an image for a trademark, generally you must use it in conjunction with the sale of goods or services first. By adding this image to your company’s materials, you meet that requirement.

Step 3

Register the mark with the states in which the mark is used by your business. Generally, registering for a federal trademark is sufficient as it tends to supersede all common law and state trademarks. The one exception is if the state mark was in use before the first use of the mark registered with the federal government. State registration is comparatively simple, inexpensive and fast, and if your business only operates in one state, you may not be able to register your trademark federally. The process for state registration varies, but it generally involves registering with the Secretary of State, completing a form identifying the mark and how it will be used, and a small fee.

Step 4

Register the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO requires all trademark applications to be completed online. Through the office's Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), you can file either a TEAS PLUS or regular application. A TEAS PLUS application has a lower filing fee but stricter requirements than the regular TEAS application. The application must include your contact information, the mark itself, when the mark was first used, how the mark will be used and types of products the mark will be used with. In the application, you must also declare that you know of no other business using this mark, or something similar, that would cause any confusion.