How to Trademark a Shirt Design

by Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

If you plan on making some money with a unique shirt design that you’ve created, protecting it with a trademark is essential. As long as the shirt design only features words, symbols or other unique marks that distinguish your shirt from others on the market or that already have a trademark, obtaining a trademark will protect your intellectual property and prevent others from capitalizing on your design.

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Step 1

Choose the format of your mark. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires that you identify the format category of your shirt design before you can submit a trademark application. You must choose between the “standard character” and the “stylized/design” format – the former applies to shirt designs that feature letters, words and numbers and offers no protection for a particular font or color, while the "stylized/design" format protects shirt designs of a specific, stylized appearance.

Step 2

Identify the type of shirt on which you intend to use the trademark. Before you can file a trademark application, you must select a category that best describes your product from the U.S. Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual. Use the USPTO’s searchable online database to make this determination (see link in Resources).

Step 3

Search the USPTO online database for existing trademarks for the same or a substantially similar shirt design. The USPTO will only grant trademark protection if your shirt design is unique and readily distinguishable from existing shirt design trademarks. Search the database using keywords and other query parameters to verify that your shirt design is eligible for trademark protection before you fill out the application and pay the filing fee.

Step 4

Identify your “basis for filing” the trademark application: the options are “use in commerce” or “intent to use.” Choose “use in commerce” if you are already selling your shirts or you've licensed the design; choose “intent to use” if you haven’t yet used the trademark in commerce but you intend to do so. The latter option will require filing an additional form and paying a fee prior to registering your trademark.

Step 5

Prepare and file the trademark application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). You can complete and submit your entire application, including drawings of the shirt design, using TEAS Plus or the regular TEAS form. The advantage of filing a TEAS Plus form is that the filing fees are lower, but it has stricter requirements than the standard TEAS form.