Answers For Small Business Owners About Trademark Basics

Starting a new business or introducing a new product for your small business means you may be considering trademark protection. Many small business owners know that a trademark protects them, but they aren't sure exactly how nor what specifically should be trademarked. The following guide can help answer your questions so you can work to protect your brand.

What can be trademarked?

A trademark is designed to protect a brand, so it protects words, symbols, and devices so that other businesses can't use them to describe similar products or business types. It can also protect your actual logo, which is a combination of the words, symbols, and devices that make up your trademark. As a general guideline, trademarks are used to legally protect business names or the names of specific products or processes used by your business.

Can a service be trademarked?

The name or descriptive symbols used to indicate the service can be trademarked. This is technically called a service mark. For example, if your business provides 24 hour at home repair service and you call it 247Care, you can file for a service mark on the name 247Care.

Is registration necessary?

Common law actually applies to trademark. As long as you use "TM" for trademarks or "SM" for service marks after every use of your trademark in public, you can protect your trademark in court if it is ever challenged. Normally, you will have to show that you were using it as a trademark first in order to win the case.

Why pay for registration, then?

Registration can save you many headaches and legal fees down the road. Once you have registered your trademark, you can defend it more quickly and easily if some tries to use it. There is also the issue of someone registering your common law trademark. This will require you to go to court to challenge the registration, which can be a drawn out process. Registering the trademark and maintaining that registration can prevent these scenarios.

Where is a trademark registered?

You register your trademark within the state that you do business. If you do business in more than one state, you can register for a federal trademark.

Can more than one business have the same trademark?

Similar names and trademarks are common. They can be approved if the businesses aren't in direct competition. For example, if you sell a lawn care product under a certain name, someone else can sell athletic shoes under the same name and you can both have trademarks on the name. This is not always the case and it will come down to the registrar deciding if it is allowed.

If you have any questions about trademark or would like to begin the registration process, contact a trademark law attorney in your area.