Once you have selected a logo for your business, you will want to make sure that you secure the trademark rights to that logo. Before addressing how to secure those rights, we should define the terms “trademark” and “logo.” You may also want to brush up on your copyright in logo design knowledge.
A trademark is a distinctive word, name, phrase, symbol, design, or other device used by a company or person to distinguish its products or services from the products or services of other companies. Trademarks are basically brands, and you can protect your trademark or brand by securing the associated trademark rights. These rights allow you to prevent others from using a confusingly similar trademark or brand.
A logo is a type of trademark that consists of a design that is generally used by company or person and placed on its products or printed material related to its services. The logo may be a design by itself, a design with letters or words, or a design consisting simply of stylized words or letters. In contrast, some trademarks consist solely of letters or words without any design, but these would not be considered logos.
After selecting a logo for your business, you will want to secure the trademark rights for that logo by trademarking it. Here are step by step instructions for protecting your logo in the United States, noting that protecting your logo in other countries is beyond the scope of this article.
Ideally, you will want to make sure that your logo is available for your adoption and use. That is, you will want to make sure that no one else is already using your logo. To do this, you will want to perform a trademark search. The trademark search will tell you whether someone else has already adopted the identical or a highly similar logo. If someone has already adopted your logo or a highly similar logo and you proceed to use your logo, you may be infringing on their trademark and may get sued for trademark infringement. While you can try to perform your own trademark search either by searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s records or using a search company such as Thomson CompuMark, it is recommended to hire a trademark attorney who can not only conduct the search but who can better define the search criteria and who has the legal expertise to analyze the search results.
Once you have determined that no one else is using your logo, you will want to secure the trademark rights to your logo. There are essentially three ways that you can do this.
First, you can begin to acquire trademark rights just by using your logo in connection with your products or services. However, the rights you obtain just by using your logo are relatively limited as you only acquire rights in the geographic area in which you are using your logo.
Second, if you are only using your logo to do business within one state, then you can file an application to register your trademark with the Secretary of State’s office for your particular state. However, this will only provide you with trademark rights to your logo in that state.
The third way is to file a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If you are planning to do business in more than one state, then this is the way to go. If your trademark application is approved (i.e., registered), it will provide you with trademark rights to your logo across the entire United States. Regardless of the method you choose, you would be wise to consult a trademark attorney to ensure that you are proceeding properly to ensure that you obtain the most protection possible, as trademark applications can be rather complicated and subject to esoteric procedures and rules.
After you have acquired trademark rights to your logo, you will likely want to protect it against the unauthorized adoption and use by third parties. This is known as enforcing your trademark rights. The best way to do this is to have a “trademark watch” in place. A trademark watch will alert you when third parties start using a logo that is too close to yours. You will then be able to decide whether you need to take action such as sending a cease and desist letter or instituting a trademark infringement lawsuit. You can order a trademark watch yourself through companies such as Thomson CompuMark, but it is probably wiser to hire an attorney to put the watch in place as the attorney will have the expertise to advise you when it makes sense to object to another party’s use of a particular logo.
If you follow the above steps, you should successfully legally protect and enforce your trademark rights in your logo.
About the Authors:
David Owens and Bruno Tarabichi are experienced trademark attorneys.
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