This is the final post in October’s branding series. So far we’ve talked about defining your unique selling proposition, finding your brand’s tone of voice, and reinforcing your brand in your online spaces. Today we’re going to discuss how to protect your brand once you’ve established it.
First, let’s talk about 3 types of protection companies can obtain which are often confusing to new business owners. These are trademarks, patents, and copyrights. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, they are defined as follows:
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others
A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.
A copyright protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed.
Because we’re discussing branding in this series, we’re going to focus on trademarks.
What is a trademark?
Basically, your trademark is your brand’s identity. Also known as a service mark, it covers anything that sets your brand apart from others — this can be a word, a name, a symbol, or other distinguishing device. The “TM” symbol that you see on many logos is intended to signify that the company claims the rights to that mark or word. When you see an “R” instead, that means that the owner has gone through the official process o federal registration with the USPTO. There are some instances in which companies (like Google) choose to stick with “TM” even once their brand is registered, and they may choose to do this for a variety of reasons. In short, any brand that uses “R” must be legally registered, and brands using “TM” may or may not be.
Why should I register my trademark?
While it is not required that you register your trademark in order to claim it, there are considerable advantages to doing so. These include providing notice to the public of your claim of ownership on the mark, legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and exclusive rights to use the mark in connection with the goods or services that you’ve listed when registering your mark. (USPTO.com) For less technical purposes, it’s beneficial to your company to register your trademark because it lends credibility and permanence to your brand.
How do I register my trademark?
The process of getting registered can be long, and may last up to a year. Which is why some companies choose not to do it, particularly small businesses with limited resources.
The first thing to do before you devote any more time to the process, is to search pending and registered trademarks in the USPTO database. If the brand or symbol you want to register already exists, you’ll need to take a step back and reassess your options.
Next, you will decide whether you want to register a Standard Character Mark, a Stylized Mark, or a Design Mark. A Standard Character Mark affords the most flexibility because it covers the name of your brand, no matter how it is displayed. A Stylized Mark specifies how your name is displayed, which specific fonts, colors, and customizations. A Design Mark can be a composite of your name and a symbol or graphic, or it can be simply the graphic itself.
After you’ve done the steps above, you are ready to submit your application. You can do so online using this form.
After you’ve submitted your application, you’ll need to monitor its status periodically (USPTO recommends every 3-4 months) to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines that come up during the filing process.
If you need additional resources or have further questions, the USPTO website has a wealth of information available to you.
More from this branding series:
Finding Your Company’s Unique Selling Proposition [Infographic]
Finding Your Company’s Tone of Voice
Color, Character, Communication: How to Reinforce Your Brand Online