How to Trademark a Logo Design & Protect Your Brand
Let’s learn how to trademark a logo design and protect your brand!
Your logo design is unique and sets your brand apart from others. You are ready to use it on your marketing materials. The problem is copycats, counterfeits, and fraud happens every day. It is only natural if you want to protect your brand and its unique identifier.
The most common way to do so is by trademarking it. Since you are here, you probably have considered trademarking yours. When you trademark your logo design business, you acquire legal protection against copycats, counterfeits, and fraud.
The trademarking process in itself is rather straightforward. That said, there is much to know about trademarking a logo design to protect your brand. If anything, you want to know as much as you can so you understand what it is all about.
We can help you with that. Below, we tell you what a trademark is, how to trademark a company logo design, as well as various frequently asked questions about trademarking.
What Is a Trademark?
Let's start with the definition. What is a trademark? It can be defined as a word, phrase, name, image, or symbol that is unique enough as a company's exclusive brand. To phrase it differently, it is a name, word, phrase, image, or symbol that represents a company.
Creating a logo requires time, effort, and money. This alone is a reason enough to protect it. There is also the fact that customers recognize your logo design, making it even more important to protect.
Is a trademark required? Is it always necessary? The answer is no. While it can protect your brand, it is neither required nor always necessary.
For small companies, a trademarked logo may not be necessary. A trademark starts with the first use and depends on regional boundaries. This happens automatically but is only true if there is no one else using the mark. So even for small companies, trademarking a logo design is beneficial.
Why Is It Important for Business?
Trademarking is not a requirement that a company must meet. However, there are many benefits to doing so.
The first benefit is a priority. When you trademark your logo, it provides you with the priority to use the logo. If you don't register it, you are entitled to use that logo only in your geographic area.
No registration also means someone in the same area can use a logo with a similar or even the exact same design as yours. Even if you have used it first, it is unlikely you can stop them from doing so.
With someone else using your brand's visual representation, your brand's values and products may diminish. However, if it is trademarked, you will be able to stop someone else from using the mark.
It helps with a lawsuit as well. If a logo is trademarked, the owner has the right to take legal action against anyone who uses your logo unlawfully. In some cases, a trademark alone is enough to win the lawsuit. In the case of infringement, having a trademark may enable you to collect compensation for damages.
3. Foreign Registration
Once a logo has been trademarked in the U.S., you can apply for a trademark in other countries following their trademark laws and processes. For example, you must follow Canadian IP laws to enjoy trademark projections in Canada. However, you will want to hire an IP lawyer to help you expedite Canada's trademark search process or even guide you on how to register internationally through WIPO. This, in turn, enables your company to expand its business as well as sell your goods in foreign markets.
4. Import of foreign goods
Conversely, registering allows you to stop the import of foreign goods that infringe upon your trademark. Thus, it protects your brand from being diminished by the import of foreign goods.
How to Trademark Your Logo Design
The process is straightforward. First, you determine whether it is necessary, then search for existing marks, prepare the application, file the application, and monitor your logo once it is approved.
1. Determine whether you need registering is necessary.
You need to determine whether a registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is necessary. The process is not only time-consuming but also requires effort and money. You want to make sure that, if you do it, it is worth the resources you have poured into it.
In some cases, registration may not even be necessary. When a business starts to use a mark for selling products and advertising, it is granted ownership and protection under common law.
However, ownership and protection only apply if the business can prove that it was the first one to use the mark. Also, the protection applies only within the boundaries of a geographic area in which the business operates. If your business operates nationwide, registering your logo is a good idea.
2. Search for similar existing trademarks
If you deem it necessary, the next step is to search for existing trademarks that may have similarities to yours. You might think that your mark is unique. That may be true. But with many existing trademarks out there, you don't want to take any chances.
Remember, to be approved; your mark has to be unique and not generic. If a logo is likely to be confused with existing logos, the application may be rejected.
To search for registered trademarks, you can use the Trademark Electronic Search System on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.
3. Prepare the application
As said earlier, the process is time-consuming and requires effort and money. And it can be complex, too. Applications can be rejected due to small errors. So, to ensure the process goes smoothly, prepare the application as best as you can.
You can hire an attorney to help you prepare the application. They can guide you before, during, and after the process. For starters, they can write descriptions of the mark in a way that is understood by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office better than beginners.
This not only saves time but also makes things easier for you down the line. Also, should any complications arise, your attorney will be able to help you.
For the application process, make sure to prepare the following
- Personal details of the entity (can be an individual or business) filing for the trademark of a logo design.
- The product or service the mark will represent and the class they belong to.
- A JPG file of the design. If it is in color, a description of the colors and where they are used is required.
- A JPG/PDF file that shows how the logo appears on the product or service.
As you prepare the application, consider the final version of the logo design. Will it be black and white or in color? If you register for a mark in color, say red and blue, the mark will be protected only if it is displayed in red and blue.
What if you want to change the mark's color? If, later on, you decide to change the color, you will have to either re-apply for a new trademark or amend the initial application. On the other hand, if you trademark the black-and-white version, you can add or change the color without having to file for a new application.
4. File the application
You can complete the application on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website. Detailed instructions are provided on the website. You just need to follow them. Once you have submitted your application, use the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval to check its latest status.
Wait for 5 to 7 days after applying to check the application's latest status. Keep in mind that the application process may take longer if there are errors. Be sure to double-check your application to minimize errors.
After the filling is received, it will get a serial number and an examining attorney. The attorney will review the application and perform a clearance search to ensure that there aren't existing marks for similar products that are similar to the applicant.
If there are no issues and the application meets all of the requirements, they will approve the logo for publication in an online journal. If no one objects, the trademark will be registered.
If, however, there are issues with the application, they will send an office action to the applicant. The applicant is then required to provide a response to correct any problems listed.
Since there is a time limit for this (typically within six months), you want to correct the problems ASAP. Failure to do so will result in your application being rejected.
5. After your logo is approved
Once your logo design is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you are now a trademark owner. As the owner of the registered mark, you have the exclusive rights to use it within the approved goods or services anywhere in the country.
You have the right to sue any illegal use of the mark and stop foreign goods with your mark from being imported into the U.S. If you want to protect your brand further, consider setting up a trademark watch by hiring either an attorney or specialized service.
The watch will continuously keep an eye on and search for illegal use of your mark for you. If someone else uses your mark or attempts to trademark logos that are too similar, they will send a cease and desist letter.
Keep in mind that trademarks don't last forever. They only last for ten years. That means if you want your mark to stay trademarked, you will need to renew it once a decade.
How Long Will the Process Take?
Unfortunately, there is no exact answer to this. How long the process will take varies from one case to another. On average, the process takes about six to nine months from the initial application. In some cases, the process can take years to complete. This is rare, however.
If there are no issues with your application, you will likely get a receipt with a serial number approx. Six months after filing. You can use the serial number to monitor your application.
The process may be lengthy, but it is understandable, considering some applications need to be reexamined or changed to make sure of their uniqueness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it different from copyright?
While trademarks and copyrights both protect creative works, they are different. A trademark is a unique word, phrase, name, image, or symbol that represents a business. It is usually used in a business's marketing materials.
Meanwhile, the creative works that copyright protects are books, music, artwork, movies, or computer programs. Not all creative works can be copyrighted, however. For a creative work to be copyrighted, it must be something that consumers can see, hear, or use.
A common string of words or an idea that isn't documented cannot be copyrighted. They can be trademarked, but these are not tangible mediums by definition. Logos are unique. Oftentimes, they are eligible for both.
On the one hand, trademarking prevents a mark from being used by unauthorized individuals or organizations. On the other, copyrighting protects the registered logo design from unlawful copying. Both protect your brand, just in different ways.
Copyrights are earned upon the creation of a creative work in a tangible medium. Note that while this happens automatically, copyright registration adds benefits.
If you hire a designer to design yours, make sure that you have an agreement that transfers the ownership of the logo and the rights associated with it to you. This is crucial because such an agreement grants you control over how the logo can be used and reproduced.
Can I trademark my logo design myself?
Yes, you can. It is possible to go through the process of trademarking a logo design from start to finish on your own. We don't recommend it, though. You can make the process much smoother by hiring an attorney or specialized service.
They will help you prepare your application and minimize errors. Should any complications arise, they will be handled properly.
How long does the process take?
There is no exact answer as the duration varies from case to case. On average, the process takes six to nine months. The more complications are found, the longer the process will be. Conversely, the fewer complications are found, the faster it will be.
How much does it cost?
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers two filling options for both individuals and businesses who want to trademark their logo: the TEAS Standard and the TEAS Plus.
With the TEAS Standard, each class of goods or services costs $350. With the TEAS Plus, each class of goods or services costs $USD.
If you decide to hire an attorney, there will be additional costs for their service.
Can a mark be copyrighted?
As we have explained earlier, the answer is yes. It can. Creative work has a copyright as soon as it has been created and a trademark with its first use.
To get additional benefits, individuals or businesses can register their logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the trademark and the U.S. Copyright Office for the copyright.
Can I trademark a business name?
Yes, you can. The process of trademarking a business name and a logo is quite similar. You will need to apply online through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.
Similar to trademark a logo, trademarking a business name can take a few months to complete. Hiring an experienced attorney can help make the process smoother.
Can you trademark a logo that is designed using a logo maker?
Yes, you can. How it is designed is more or less not important. Even if you used a logo maker to design your logo, you could take full ownership of it.
Is it enforceable around the world?
The answer is no. Trademarking only grants you protection in the country where you filed for it. If you register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it will grant you protection within the U.S.
One of the benefits of a trademark is that if you have done it in one country, doing the same can be easier in another. Note that you will need to file a separate trademark in the countries where you want legal protection.
Who owns the trademark?
When you design a logo yourself, you do. When you hire a designer to design it for you, the ownership is transferred from them to you once you complete the purchase.
What can't it protect?
It won't grant you the exclusive right to anything generic. Also, it can't prohibit others from using your intellectual property as long as they comply with the Fair Use Doctrine.
As said earlier, the trademarking process is straightforward. However, there are some considerations you want to keep in mind. Trademarking a company logo design takes time, effort, and money. Thus, whether or not it is necessary depends on your situation.
If you deem trademarking your logo design necessary to protect your brand, the steps we listed above should give you an idea of how the process will go. Also, keep in mind that trademarks last a decade. If you want your logo to stay trademarked, you will need to renew it every ten years.
- How to Check If a Logo Trademark Is Already Registered
- Can You Sue If Your Logo Design Is Not Trademarked?
- What Happen If You Use A Trademarked Logo Without Permission