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What do Google, Walmart, Pepsi, Exxon, McDonald’s, and Gatorade have in common?
The answer is a trademark. As some of the most widely recognized trademarks, these businesses are easily identified in the marketplace.
And while many business owners wonder whether trademarks are actually important to their business success, the answer is a resounding yes.
Trademarks defined: According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)—a fee-funded agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce—a trademark is a word, phrase, sign, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes products/services of a particular source or company. Trademarks can be a single word, design, or a combination of words and designs.
Protecting yourself: Trademarks protect your brand from infringement. While common law trademarks are state specific, federally registered trademarks are recognized in all 50 states.
Benefits to trademarking: There are numerous reasons to obtain a trademark, including:
–promotes freedom of choice
–helps customers make confident purchasing decisions
–provides legal recourse to stop another business from using your name
–helps you open a business account at a bank
–offers an effective communication tool
–allows consumers to easily find your business
–helps businesses effectively use the Internet and social media
–can make your brand name valuable over time
–assists with hiring talent and improving employee retention
–makes good business sense because trademarks do not expire and are inexpensive to obtain
Eligibility: USPTO rules maintain that in order to be eligible for a trademark, it must be distinctive and in use in commerce. There are four different categories of distinctiveness for trademarks: descriptive, suggestive, fanciful/arbitrary, and generic.
Trademark timing: It is best for business owners to begin the trademark application process as soon as they file their LLC or corporate paperwork. After all, filing for a trademark before actually launching a business means you can guarantee that protection of your name begins before you start selling any goods and services.
Trademark searching: It is vey important to conduct a complete search of your mark before filing an application because the search results may detect potential problems, such as confusion with another trademark. Keep in mind that the USPTO will not search your mark prior to filing an application, so a search can potentially save money and keep you from applying for a trademark that already exists.
The USPTO offers a free search system known as TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System), which is available at: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks.
There is also a help page available at: http://tess2.uspto.gov/webaka/html/help.htm that provides useful information on search strategies.
Application information: You can file your application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) at: http://www.uspto.gov/teas. This site allows you to pay by credit card, electronic funds transfer, or through an existing USPTO deposit account.
The trademark registration will ask you to include the following information:
–The name of applicant/owner of the trademark
–Address of applicant
–Basis for filing
–Specimen for use-based applications
Trademark costs: There is no cost to create a common law trademark because it only requires you to use it. However, federally registered trademarks usually cost about $3,000 to $4,000. The pricing is broken into two parts: the trademark search and the trademark application.
For current fees, visit the Trademark Fee Information page at:
http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/tm_fee_info.jsp or contact the Trademark Assistance Center at: TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov.
The bottom line is that trademarks are essential to growing your business. Take Pepsi, for example. It was June 16, 1903, when the U.S. Patent Office registered the trademark of New Bern pharmacist Caleb Bradham’s new soft drink, Pepsi-Cola. If a trademark made good business sense to Bradham in 1903, it should clearly make sense for all entrepreneurs today.
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