When it comes to clothing labels, the quintessential trademark is the Nike swoosh. Every time you see it on a pair of shoes, hat, or jacket, you know the product is Nike-made and carries such quality. That's what you want for your own label—that consumers see it and know the product that bears it is yours.
How to Create Trademark Rights
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies the source of goods or services. Your name and logo earn this status when you use them on the goods you sell. The more you use your mark, the more it becomes associated with your products and the stronger your rights grow.
You can protect those rights by registering with your state, or with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Federal registration offers the best protection, including these advantages:
- Public notice of your ownership
- A legal presumption of ownership and exclusive right to use the mark
- The right to bring a lawsuit in federal court to stop someone else using it
- The right to use the R in a circle symbol, which evidences your registration
Applying for Federal Protection
Here's how to begin the federal trademark registration process:
1. Choose a name and design a logo.
First, choose a name for your clothing label and design a logo that works with it. This is what you will use on your products and register with the USPTO. Be sure to choose one that is unique and distinctive, and not merely generically descriptive of the goods. The strongest trademarks are what the USPTO calls "arbitrary" or "fanciful," meaning they bear no obvious relationship to the products on which you use them. Most important, it cannot be too similar to one that is already in use.
2. Identify the goods you want to protect.
Your next step is to decide to which goods you will apply your mark. Clearly and precisely describe them on your application. Check the USPTO's Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual to see what kinds of descriptions are acceptable.
3. Search the USPTO database.
The USPTO will not register yours if it creates a likelihood of confusion with one already in use. You can search the online database to see if there any out being used.
4. Choose your basis for filing.
You can file an application based on having already used your mark in commerce, or you can file based on your intent to use it. Note that if you choose to file an intent-to-use application, you must subsequently submit evidence of actual use before the USPTO will issue a registration. If you decide to file on a use-in-commerce basis, then you must begin applying your label to your clothes and selling them before you file your application. You also must identify the date you first began using it in commerce on your application.
When you use your mark, be sure to use the TM symbol with it, to indicate that you are claiming it as yours. You may not use the R in a circle symbol until the USPTO grants your registration.
5. File your application.
Once you've completed the form, you will file it and pay the application fee online using the Trademark Electronic Application System. You can also submit a paper application, but the filing fee is greater if using this method. Your documentation must include a clear image of your mark, as well as a specimen that shows exactly how you are using it in commerce.
If you want to protect your clothing label, consider formally registering your mark online via the USPTO database. Doing so will allow you to receive greater protection, particularly when it comes to potential infringement issues.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.