Securing a trademark can seem like a daunting process, but it can actually be quite simple to set yourself up for success. Before applying for a trademark, it’s important to take careful consideration and familiarize yourself with the basic ins and outs of trademarks – from understanding what the research and registration process looks like, to what makes a strong mark, to what happens after you’ve successfully secured. Taking the time to properly prepare your mark will create a much easier process and hopefully save you from headaches in the future.
Do Your Research
All too often, small business owners fail to do a trademark search at all. It’s essential to do your trademark homework before diving head first into the registration process – and don’t skimp on research! A simple web search alone likely won’t catch what you’re looking for, as web search engines are not intended to assess trademark similarity for legal purposes.
Once you’ve come up with a brand name that you want to trademark, you should embark on the research process. Trust me – you’ll want to do your due diligence now to save yourself from a headache down the road. You can start with a search of the USPTO database for registered and pending marks, but don’t stop there. It’s also beneficial to comb through unregistered product and company names via Google, social media, relevant industry-specific publications, business directories, and e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon and iTunes. Looking at website domains can also be a quick way to check if your name is being used in any way.
Understand “Strong” vs “Weak” Marks
It’s also important to understand what makes a “strong” vs “weak” trademark, and take this into consideration when choosing your mark. A weak mark often simply describes the product or service, which increases the chances that others with similar products or services may already be using it (think Power Plumbing for a plumbing service, or Creamy Yogurt for a frozen yogurt shop). Weak marks are more difficult and expensive to protect so the USPTO recommends that businesses submit a strong mark that will be more easily protected from copycats.
Strong marks are often unique, distinct and/or made up. To ensure your mark is unique, you’ll want to think of something that stands out and is sufficiently different from other marks, especially for similar products or services. You can also take distinctness into consideration – the more distinct the mark, the more protection it offers. For example, highly distinct trademarks are typically comprised of a word(s) with a known meaning that has no connection to the product or service (think Target for shopping centers, or Apple for computers). Keep in mind, it’s best to shy away from generic terms that are naturally associated with your product or service. Generic terms are unlikely to be accepted as they are extremely difficult to police. Ultimately, made up words make very strong trademarks and are typically easiest to enforce.
The Road Doesn’t End with Registration
Once you have completed the trademark registration process and your mark is secured, the road doesn’t end there. Monitoring your trademark for copycats is just as important as registering. To ensure your brand is fully protected, you’ll need to monitor for potential attempts by others to register the same or confusingly similar names with the USPTO. If you do find this happening, you’ll need to act quick as businesses in the U.S. only have 30 days to oppose a mark. Constant monitoring is the only way to ensure another entrepreneur doesn’t swoop in and benefit from the brand you’ve worked so hard to build. Enlisting tools like Trademark.com can assist in this process and give small business owners peace of mind – providing 24/7 trademark monitoring and weekly alerts of infringing activity.
At the end of the day, taking these best practices into account during your trademark registration journey will help set you up for success – even after your trademark is secured. Put the effort into brainstorming and research in the beginning, and protect what you’ve worked so hard to build and secure.