A business name can be a valuable asset. It represents a key part of your brand identity. Logos and fictitious names can also represent significant market value for a business. These assets are called trademarks (for products) and service marks (for services). Claiming the right to exclusive use of names and logos can be an important step in protecting their value, especially if you expect your business to grow and serve more than a limited area.
Getting this protection is not difficult, but does require filing applications at the state or federal level. Filing a mark on the state level may be sufficient if you do not expect your business to expand beyond the state in which it operates. State registration is easy and relatively inexpensive. In Iowa, there are no filings that need to be made in future years to keep the registration active.
Filing for federal registration is not as simple – it involves more paperwork, more process, and more expense. As a beginning step in preparing an application, searches should be done to identify any business names, logos or registered marks that may conflict with yours. Some searching can be done at the web site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/search-trademark-database) or on the internet. Searching logos and designs is difficult and may require that you hire a search service to do it. Even unregistered marks should be examined carefully because a prior user of the mark may have common law rights that are superior to a registered mark.
A federal application includes various elements, such as a specific description of the goods or services that the mark is used with. You must also show proof of actual use. If the mark isn't yet in use but you expect it to be in the near future, you can file an “intent to use” application but have to eventually file documents to show proof of use. USPTO assigns an examiner to all applications. Examiners search for conflicts with existing registered marks and identify deficiencies in the application or points where more information or clarification is needed. After the application has been revised and approved, it is published so that anyone who protests your use of the mark can take steps to oppose registration. Opposition usually comes from the owner of an existing registered mark who asserts the application mark is confusingly similar to their registered mark. Even without opposition, the process can take six or more months from start to finish. Once a mark is registered, further filings have to be made (and significant fees paid) in order to keep the registration on active status.
We have helped clients to register and maintain dozens of trademarks and service marks, as well as to respond to threats against use of a mark. Let us help you take care of these important assets. Reach out to us through the contact box on the right side of this page.