Through Updated March 24, 2019
Congratulations! You’ve designed an exciting new logo for your small business, a logo that perfectly captures your business’s new and fresh approach to … whatever your business is selling. But now that your logo is in use, are there any steps you need to take to protect it as intellectual property? You are not required to register your new logo with the Trademark Office. But registration offers additional legal protections that you won’t have otherwise.
What is a registered trademark?
The logos of the products that your company sells are protected by trademark law. Once your logo is used, it is automatically protected by a trademark. There is no obligation for you to register the logo or take any other steps to acquire trademark protection. Once your logo is used, only you can use it. Other companies that use the logo without your permission run the risk of being prosecuted for trademark infringement.
However, the trademark coverage that you automatically receive is a fairly weak form of protection, legally speaking. You can strengthen the legal status of your brand by register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Trademarks are not limited to logos and may extend to product names or other distinctive identifiers, including sounds and colors. Trademark protection for services, such as plumbing or legal services, are often known as service marks.
The advantage of trademark registration
Even if your logo has automatic trademark protection, you should consider registering it with the USPTO. Registration creates a legally important paper trail that unambiguously establishes the date of the mark. Registration also means that the USPTO will review your logo design and determine whether or not it can be trademarked (logos whose design is too close to existing logos could be rejected by the USPTO).
Hopefully, you will never find yourself in a legal dispute over the ownership of your logo. But if this happens, the registration of the trademark registration becomes an important consideration as the ownership of the logo is decided by the court.
Registering your logo
Registering your logo for a USPTO trademark costs several hundred dollars, takes time to a final decision, and involves a lot of paperwork. You can do this yourself, but many people opt for the services of a trade-mark lawyer or other trade-mark professional to help them with the application process.
The registration steps are quite simple:
- Decide on the correct application form to use. The USPTO offers three main forms. Which one you use depends on the complexity of your claim (rather like choosing to file a 1040 or 1040-EZ for your taxes). The USPTO website has a video guide as well as documents to help you make the right choice.
- Complete and submit the form, online or in hard copy. The online submission will be processed faster than the paper forms you send in the mail.
- Pay the fees, which vary depending on the form you used for your registration.
- Be patient. The USPTO review process and final decision usually take several months.
While not essential, it’s helpful to research the USPTO’s Trademark Database if your logo design and wording may conflict with existing trademark designs. A logo whose appearance is too close to an existing logo – close enough to cause confusion between different products or services – could be rejected after review by the USPTO.
Trademarks can also be registered with a state rather than with the USPTO. State registration is simpler, but only applies within the state and is generally not as protective, in law, as a federal registration.