Register or not to Register?

I had a client recently express interest in registering their trademark and asked for my opinion. I realized this was a great opportunity to talk about trademarks and registration in general.

A company’s brand is its public representation. It will be the first thing potential clients see and should represent the best your company has to offer. A trademark is one of the most important business assets you’ll ever own. So why wouldn’t you do everything possible to protect it?

A trademark, “TM”, is any word, phrase or symbol used to serve as an identifier for the sources or products you offer. When a design is created, it is automatically trademarked. A registered trademark, “R”, on the other hand, has been registered with the United States Patton Office. The “R” can only be used with registered trademarks and only by the owner or licensee. It also must only be used in the regions you possess a valid trademark registration.

It is the responsibility of the brand owner to ensure that the correct trademark symbol is used. To best protect your brand, always include the trademark symbol. The symbol is typically located on the right of the brand in superscript; however, this is not a requirement.

The process to register a trademark requires some special steps. You must perform a search of the federal trademark database for direct conflicts with your trademark. Digital designs must also be submitted to the USPTO for approval along with registration fees.

There are situations where a potential trademark may be denied. Typically the USPTO will deny a trademark if it too closely resembles another trademark or if it is too general. For example, several years back NBC wanted to register their channel “Sci-Fi” for a trademark; however, their request was deemed too general. NBC changed the branding to “SyFy” and was able to successfully register the trademark with the USPTO. This is why you typically find companies with “creative” spellings for their trademark.

The process to register a trademark is time-consuming and expensive. There is paperwork to be filed and there is no guarantee your trademark will be approved; however, the protection a registration provides can’t be understated. With a trademark, you have a legal ground to protect your brand; however, it will not stand up against a registered trademark.

In conclusion, after considering all of the above I generally recommend a standard trademark for clients that operate on a more local level; however, if your brand will operate on a national or international level, the protection registration offers is well worth the extra time and money required to register your trademark.

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