A trademark is a mark, symbol or combination of words that distinctively identifies a product or service -- McDonald's Golden Arches, for example. Trademarks have economic value because they represent the business reputation of the products they represent or the company with which they are identified. Registration of your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allows you to obtain nationwide protection, sue in federal courts and qualify for international protection.
Select a non-generic trademark. Generic trademarks are unacceptable. For example, "Apple Computers" is a non-generic phrase, but "Apple Apples" is generic.
Search the Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS, on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine if your proposed trademark is identical or deceptively similar to another registered trademark. If it is, change your trademark enough to make it distinctive. To register a logo, search the Design Search Code Manual on the USPTO website to find codes that identify your design, then use these codes to search for similar designs.
Draft a description of the goods or services that your trademark will protect. This description should be about a paragraph long and must be included with your trademark application.
Classify your product by obtaining a code from the USPTO's Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual on the USPTO website. For example, your product may be classified as anything from adhesive bandages to blouses. A code will be attached to each classification, and you must use this code in your trademark application.
Create a jpeg file attachment bearing the image of your trademark. If your trademark includes both wording and a design element, you must create digital representations for each.
Complete the online trademark application using the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Application System, or TEAS, on the USPTO website, including the description you drafted, your product identification code and your digital representation. Supply your name and the name of your business, as well as identification, contact and biographical information.
Pay the required filing fee online by credit or debit card.
Renew your trademark registration between the fifth and sixth year after registration, between the ninth and 10th year, and every 10 years after that. To maintain your registration, you must continue to use your trademark in commerce -- or have an acceptable reason for non-use, complete a renewal application and pay a filing fee.
Tips & Warnings
After you complete registration, you can protect your trademark internationally by filing an application under the World Intellectual Property Organization's Madrid System.
Simply using your trademark in commerce allows you to automatically obtain common law trademark rights. This means that even without formal registration, you can protect your trademark in any municipality or county where you actually use it, but nowhere else.
The USPTO will issue you a registration number that you can use to keep track of the status of your application.
References & Resources
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Application System
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Basic Facts About Trademarks
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Trademarks -- Keeping a Registration Alive
- World Intellectual Property Organization: Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: U.S. Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual
- Traverse Legal: What are Common Law Trademark Rights?
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images