How to Register a Trademark: A Step-By-Step Process
Many businesses are under the impression that, once they have registered their business and obtained a license to operate, they are all set and all that’s left to do is to sell their products or services and start earning money. They miss other salient points, and one of them is the trademark.
In this article, you will learn about 1) a trademark overview and 2) the trademark registration process.
A trademark is any name, word, phrase, logo, design or symbol that businesses and companies use to assign an identity or distinguishing feature for their goods or products, effectively setting them apart from those of other manufacturers or sellers. The trademark instantly brings about recognition to any customer that sees it. The moment they spot the trademark, they will be able to immediately identify what product it is and, more importantly for businesses, who made it. Essentially, the trademark is the brand name of a company.
Physical products or goods make use of trademarks, while service providers have their own respective service marks. They are clearly distinguished from patent, which are meant to protect inventions, and copyrights, which are for the protection of original literary or artistic works.
The trademarks that businesses eventually decide on must be protected, so that no one else will claim and use them. That is why there is a need to register the trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Businesses with trademarks duly registered with the USPTO will have the following privileges and benefits:
- Public notice of the business’ claim of ownership of the trademark or service mark;
- Legal presumption of the business’ ownership of the mark;
- Exclusive right to use the trademark in the United States and all other countries where the products or services will be sold;
- Right and ability to bring an action in federal court on any matter concerning the mark;
- Right to use the federal registration symbol in their product labels; and
- Inclusion in the listings or databases of the USPTO.
Registration of a trademark does not make ownership of the mark permanent. There is a need to maintain it. The registration will remain valid as long as all post-registration maintenance documents are filed and submitted on a timely basis.
THE TRADEMARK REGISTRATION PROCESS
Registering a trademark sounds like a daunting and complicated task. And it is, if you do not know how to go about it. Let us walk you through every step of the process, and you will realize that it should not be all that complicated.
To simplify things, we will break the entire process down into four phases: Pre-registration, Mark Selection, the Application Form, Evaluation, until you get the verdict on your application.
Phase 1: Pre-Registration
Once you have set up your business, you may have decided to immediately register a trademark. Before doing that, however, there are several questions or considerations that must be addressed.
- Is a trademark truly what you need? As mentioned earlier, trademark is meant for the protection of physical goods or services. Thus, only companies that manufacture or sell physical goods or provide services are eligible to apply for a trademark. Inventions, literary works, compositions and other types of original art are not covered.
- Do you need to register a trademark, or will your business name suffice? There are instances where having a registered business name will be enough to identify the company or the products and their source. You may also need to look up local rules and statutes on the registration of business names and see if this is allowed.
If the answer to the two questions is affirmative, you can move on to the next phase.
Phase 2: Mark Selection
The first thing you have to do before you can apply for a trademark is to select the mark that you will use. This is actually the most difficult part of the process, since selecting a mark must be done with a lot of thought, and several considerations coming into play.
First, you have to see if the mark that you want to register is eligible for registration for trademark protection. Is it “registerable”?
There are two basic requirements that will make a mark eligible:
- The mark must be used in commerce. Marks meant for personal use, not business, are not registrable for trademark protection. Commerce, in this context, includes territorial commerce (selling of goods and/or services within the state only), interstate commerce (selling of goods and/or services across state lines), and commerce between the US and foreign counties.
- The mark must be distinctive or unique. This is so that it can identify and distinguish particular goods or services as produced or provided by one source, and not by anyone else.
There are four categories of distinctiveness that the mark may fall under:
- Arbitrary or fanciful – the mark is inherently distinctive. The exclusive rights to the trademark are going to be determined as to priority of use.
- Suggestive – trademarks under this category are treated the same way as those under arbitrary/fanciful.
- Descriptive – trademarks under this category are only eligible for protection if they have already acquired a secondary meaning in the minds and perceptions of the public, particularly the consumers.
- Generic – these trademarks are never going to be protectable, or entitled to trademark protection, since they do not indicate a unique source for the product or service. Instead, they refer to a general class of goods or services.
The second thing to consider is whether the mark that you have selected is strong enough on its own, and if the business will not have a difficult time protecting it.
When selecting a mark, consider the following:
- Format of the mark: The mark format could be a standard character, a design, or even a sound. It could even be a combination of several types of marks. Here are some of the more common types of marks.
- Word marks are “standard character drawings”, where Latin characters are used for the letters and Roman or Arabic numerals are used for numbers. It may also occasionally contain common punctuation marks. Examples include the trademarks of Facebook, SONY, PHILIPS and SUBWAY.
- Design marks are stylized wordings or design, or a combination of both. When submitted for consideration, it must be in .jpg file format and scanned at 300 to 350 dots per inch. It should be between 250 to 944 pixels long and 250 to 944 pixels wide – no more, no less. Examples are the stylized texts for Coca-Cola and Disney.
- Color marks are slightly more difficult to be registered, since there is a need to submit substantial proof of “acquired distinctiveness”, as well as the logo rendered in color. There should also be a color claim naming the colors featured in the trademark, and where the said colors appear in the overall design of the mark.
- Shape marks show the three-dimensional configuration or the shape or design of the product. Examples include the SHELL logo, the Coca Cola bottle.
- Sound marks require submission of the file in various audio formats, such as .wav, .wmv, .wma, .mp3, .avi or .mpg. Audio files should not be more than 5MB and video files have a maximum file size of 30MB. The application must be accompanied by a detailed description of the sound. Examples include the T-Mobile ring tone or the AT&T sound mark.
- Goods or services that that mark will be applied to: There is a need to clearly identify what products will be using the trademark, or what service will the service mark be applied to.
- Availability of the mark: This requires obtaining clearance of the mark for use. The purpose of this step is to minimize or eliminate altogether any possible confusion or redundancy brought about by incidences where the same mark has already been registered and is currently in use.
This entails conducting an analysis of all trademarks that are registered with the USPTO, as well as the trademark registries in all the 50 states of the United States. If the product or service is also expected to be sold in countries outside the US, there is a need to check the trademark registries of the countries concerned. You may perform a search on USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) – this is free of charge – or by personally heading to the Trademark Public Search Library in Alexandria. This is also free.
Phase 3: The Application Form
Once you have selected a mark, you must identify your filing basis. There are two bases for you to choose from:
- “use in commerce”: This basis is for marks that have already been used, or are currently in use. Proof must be provided on the use of the trademark.
- “intent to use”: This is for marks that have not been used in business yet, but are planned to be used in the future.
Now you are ready to prepare your application.
Initial application forms are available in the official website of the USPTO (http://www.uspto.gov). The USPTO offers the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), which allows applications to file their application directly online. Applicants may access the system and fill up the electronic forms through their own internet connection, or they can go to any Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) near their location to do so.
Those who do not have internet access may opt to file on paper, with a processing fee of $375 for each class of goods or services.
To obtain a filing date, make sure that you comply with all the requirements when preparing your application form. Currently, USPTO has three application filing options available, each with their own corresponding processing fees.
- TEAS Regular: For each class of goods and/or services stated in the application, a filing fee of $325 must be paid. A filing date will be issued to the applicant if the submitted form contains the following:
- Name of the applicant
- Address of the applicant (for correspondence purposes)
- A clear drawing or representation of the mark selected
- A complete listing of goods and/or services of the business
- A filing fee for at least one class of goods and/or services
- TEAS Plus: This option is considered to be the one with the most stringent requirements. Applicants have to pay a filing fee of $225 for each class of goods or services. Aside from the minimum requirements, there are additional requirements that must be met by the applicant.
- TEAS Reduced Fee: The filing fee for TEAS RF applications is $275 for each class of goods or services. It is especially meant to promote processing and communication done purely electronically.
Take note that filing an application does not automatically mean the trademark will be registered. In the event that the registration is unsuccessful, the fees paid will not be refunded.
Aside from the processing fees stated above, there are other fees that may be required from applicants. For example, applicants that do not meet the filing requirements under TEAS Plus or TEAS RF will have to pay $50 per class of goods or services. You may refer to the Trademark Fees in the USPTO website for a more complete list of the possible fees to be paid.
The various methods of payment for the abovementioned trademark fees are the following:
- USPTO Deposit Accounts, which can be established and subsequently maintained, for a corresponding fee.
- Credit Cards. Payments may be made using American Express, Discover, MasterCard and VISA.
- Electronic Funds Transfer may be done for those who have a U.S. bank account.
- Money orders or checks. They must be made payable to the “Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office”.
Phase 4: Evaluation Period to Verdict
This phase involves examination of the application, publication in the Official Gazette, and issuance of a certificate of registration.
Vigilance is a must during the period following the submission of application. Monitoring is done through checking the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) System every 3 to 4 months.
Your application will be forwarded to an examining attorney, who will be responsible for its complete and final review. It is important that you extend complete cooperation with the examining attorney assigned by the USPTO to your application.
In the event that he finds grounds to refuse the registration of your trademark, he will issue an Office Action explaining the reasons thereof. He may also contact that applicant directly if there are corrections or deficiencies of a minor nature that must be rectified.
The Office Action must be acted upon by the applicant within 6 months from the date it was mailed by the USPTO examining attorney. No action taken means that the applicant has already given up on the application for trademark registration.
Now here is a question on most everyone’s minds: how long does it take for the examination to be completed? It may take several months up to a year. It usually takes around 12 months for the examination to be completed and the registration to be issued, and this is when there are no problems with the application. It may take even longer if there are issues, such as incomplete supporting documents, or certain oppositions to the application.
If there are no issues with the application, the examining attorney will now signify his approval of the mark. Approval of the mark by the examining attorney is first manifested through publication in the weekly publication of USPTO, the “Official Gazette”, after duly informing the applicant of the fact. A period of 30 days from the date of publication is provided for any party to come forward with their concerns or oppositions to the mark.
If there is an opposition, the proceedings will be taken to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. If not, the USPTO will now register the mark. The applicant, who is now the rightful owner of the mark, will be given a certificate of registration signifying the fact.
That does not end there, however. The new owner of the registered mark has to file certain documents to maintain the registration and keep it alive.
Finally, here are some additional tips to guide you when you are filling up the application form:
- All the fields are mandatory, so do not leave any blank fields. Make sure the application form is “completely” filled up, with all the requested information provided. This is to reduce delays.
- Make sure you have a valid and active e-mail address. To prevent USPTO correspondence from being redirected to your Outbox or Spam, do not forget to include USPTO as one of your authorized e-mail senders.
- The USPTO does not really require that you use an attorney to represent you when applying for a trademark registration. However, they are not against it either. In case you opt to acquire the services of an attorney, take note that the USPTO allows only attorneys licensed to practice law in the US. They must also be a member in good standing of the state’s highest court.
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