Trademarking Your Logo (in the US)
Once you have your amazing, unique logo in hand, consider protecting the design so that you have all the rights to use it. Your logo is your brand’s identity, so once you’ve moved past the concept phase, you’ll need to think about putting it to work for your brand. We’ll help you understand trademark law in order to better manage this transition.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is the registration of your company’s products, name, logo and more as your property. The US Patent and Trademark office defines it as "words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods." A trademark gives you and your business exclusive rights to use these elements. You can also trademark other elements that form part of your company’s identity and its products or services.
Registering a trademark is a legal procedure, something you’ll be able to use in a lawsuit to defend yourself. Trademark infringement occurs when another company tries to register a logo or name that’s too similar to your trademarked brand.
A trademark is not the same as copyright. Copyright protects creative or artistic intellectual design, while trademark is designed to protect logos and slogans. Most businesses won’t need more than a trademark, but if your logo is particularly embellished and artistic, you might want to consider also copyrighting it.
When to Trademark a Logo?
There are several kinds of protection available for logos, but keep in mind that they all come with different price tags, some more accessible than others. Before going through with any trademarking procedure, ask yourself if you’ll plan on changing your logo at any point. If you don’t love it or can see yourself making some edits, it’s probably a good idea to put trademarking on hold.
Trademarks are used to sue people that infringe on your brand’s identity. If your company doesn’t have the resources for a lawsuit, this may not be the best time to trademark your logo. Focus instead on your business’s development and growth, and when you have the resources to enter into litigation (if there’s a need to), move forward on the trademark.
What does a trademark protect?
Trademarks provide protection of intellectual property, particularly those items that help to define a business’s brand, like its name and logo. Ray-Bans sunglasses, for example, have a small logo on the edge of the glasses. When other companies knock off Ray-Bans sunglasses by replicating their logo on cheap sunglasses, they’re taking advantage (and profiting off) of Ray-Bans reputation and their quality to copy their products. This falls under the category of trademark infringement when another company’s branding is so similar to yours that customers mistake the two.
How to trademark a logo
- Check availability: Before registering your logo, you need to make sure that no other trademarked logos in the database are too similar. Your design should be unique, not generic or with similarities to other logos. Search the US Patent and Trademark Attorney’s Office (USPTO) database for possible conflicts, but keep in mind that it can be quite difficult to conclude what constitutes “too similar.” Some companies hire trademark attorneys to help them determine that their logo doesn’t infringe on others’.
- Get the rights to your logo: You can obtain legal rights to use your logo in several different ways. The most simple of these, which automatically gives you rights in your local area is to just begin using your logo. However, these rights don’t extend outside of your local geographic area. Alternatively, register a trademark through the Secretary of State in your local state (or wherever you’ll use the logo). Again, this only protects use of the logo within the state’s jurisdiction.
Or apply for a trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is the most expensive option, and many opt to hire an attorney to help with the application because it uses legal terms specified by the USPTO. Processing of applications tends to take a few months after submission. Your trademark should be considered pending until it’s approved.
- Secure your trademark: After registering with the USPTO, you’ll have the rights to use it throughout the USA. If someone else in the country infringes on your trademark, you have the right to sue if you’d like. This includes products imported into the USA from other countries. You can also register your trademark in other countries to purchase rights to your logo internationally.
- Keep an eye out for infringement: Once your trademark is registered, you’ll need to monitor to see if anyone else is using your logo. This is called a trademark watch, and you can hire specialized attorneys and companies to ensure that nobody else is either using your logo or applying to trademark logos that are too similar. If they find that there’s infringement, they can send a cease and desist.