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Trademark Registration: Just Do It

Trademark Registration: Just Do It

TrademarkA trademark is an identifier that a business uses to distinguish itself from competitors. It can be a name, slogan, logo, or even a unique package design. The best ones become so prevalent that they occupy a space in our cultural identity and become part of our everyday vernacular that instantly brings to mind a company or product, like “Google It” or “Just Do It.”

The distinctive quality of a trademark is compromised if competitors create trademarks that either copy or are so similar to another that it creates market confusion, so protecting trademarks is critical to their effectiveness. A well designed protection strategy protects your business from competitors who might harm you by trading on your good name, and protects your customers from inferior products “passed off” as yours.

While registering a state level trademark is simple, and we often advise our small business clients to do so, the most effective trademark protection strategies include registration with the United States Patent and Trademark office. While registration alone will not prevent competitors from copying or mimicking your mark, it is an important first step, as it provides a legal basis for enforcement including a cease and desist letter or a court filing, and provides deterrence and notice to competitors that copying or mimicking your mark is unlawful.

The application process is complex and it is important that your application be complete and accurate from the beginning to avoid costly delays. Equally important is ensuring your application is neither too narrow nor too broad. Trademarks fall into a number of classes based on the intended use and each class carries a registration fee. Though a trademark registration can be subsequently amended, the amendment can only restrict or limit the use, not expand it. Thus, it is critical that the application includes the appropriate number of classes.

Hiring an attorney to assist you in the application and registration process is the best and most cost-effective way to ensure the application is done correctly, covers all the classes you need and none of the classes you do not, and will be processed without undue delays. Startups and early stage businesses would do well to allocate a portion of their capital for the purposes of hiring an attorney for their trademark application and registration. This will ensure the money is spent efficiently and will protect your company’s identifying images and phrases for years to come.