What is Brand Identity and How to Shape Yours?
4 Mar 2021
7 May 2020
Do you ever wonder why companies invest massive amounts of money and resources in asserting their trademark rights? Or why they willingly undergo the tangled process of trademarking their logo in the first place?
This article will tackle the most frequent questions about a trademark, such as what it is, why it’s important, and how to trademark a logo.
So buckle up, and let’s dive in.
Let’s start with the basics. A trademark is a sign, logo, name, word, or slogan that represents the intellectual property of a company. A trademark can be owned by a business organization, entrepreneur, or any other legal entity. Its purpose is to set your products and services apart from those of others.
Trademarks have a long history dating back to the 1300s. Trademark laws have been evolving and changing ever since. A trademark is indicated by the trademark symbol (™) and the registered trademark symbol (®). The latter can be used once your trademark application has been approved, and thus your trademark has been registered.
If the approval is still pending, brands use the ™ symbol for their products and the ℠ symbol for services.
A brand’s corporate identity heavily depends on its logo. It’s linked to the brand’s reputation, which explains why companies go to great lengths to protect their logo from infringement. The aim of trademarking a logo is to do just that — protect it from any kind of unauthorized use.
Registering your logo for a trademark is by no means necessary nor, in some cases, beneficial. If you operate a small local business, chances are you don’t need to spend extra money and energy to trademark your logo. As your business grows and starts to reach a larger audience, then you might want to consider registering your logo.
The obvious benefit is that you’ll lawfully claim the logo design as your own, preventing others from using it. In case another party uses your logo without your authorization, you can press charges. This strengthens your brand identity giving it a special status.
Registering your logo in other countries as well will qualify you to reach foreign markets. Besides, trademarking your logo grants you Customs and Border Protection under US law. This prevents the import of foreign goods that are marked with a similar logo to yours.
Under US law, there are three levels of a trademark. Let’s explore them.
Unregistered marks and logos that are only used locally fall under the category of local trademarks. The moment you start using your company logo for commercial purposes, it will receive common law trademark protection. It gives your logo minimal rights and is confined within your geographic area. Unregistered logos can take the ™ symbol.
The next level is a state trademark. It is only valid in the state where the business is registered. The state-level trademark protection is sufficient for small to medium-sized businesses whose reach doesn’t extend beyond a single state.
The federal trademark operates on a national level. If your business stretches across multiple states, you’ll need nationwide protection for your logo. Once you receive federal status, you’ll be able to apply for an international trademark as well.
The fee for trademark registration consists of two parts: the trademark application fee and the attorney fee. If you’re registering your logo for a state trademark, the charges will vary based on your state. You can find more information about your state fees here.
The federal registration is processed through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It’s a more protracted and expensive application process. Your cheapest option is TEAS Plus at $225, while the TEAS Standard will cost you $275. To learn more about the prices, visit the USPTO website. If you opt for an attorney, be prepared for the additional charge.
Keep in mind that the abovementioned numbers are solely the filing fees. The approval of your trademark application is by no means guaranteed. If you do get approved, however, the trademark will be in effect for ten years following the registration date. After the fifth year, you should verify that your mark is still in active commercial use.
People tend to confuse trademark and copyright, even though those are quite distinct. So let’s clear away the confusion once and for all.
Trademark applies to symbols, words, and logos that represent a specific brand. A trademark is essentially your brand name and its identity. Copyright is used for creative and artistic works, such as music, film, photography, painting, writing, and so on. You can lawfully protect your artistic works once you register them for copyright.
To learn more about music copyright and how to deal with it, check out our article.
Does your logo need a trademark or a copyright? Well, it might be both. If your logo includes an independent artistic design, then you can apply both for trademark and copyright registration. This will ensure full protection against any kind of infringement.
Now that you have a clear idea of what a trademark is and how it can be useful let’s learn how to trademark a logo. To make sure the application process runs smoothly, you have a few things to take care of first.
Your logo might not be approved for a trademark if it’s too similar to an already existing logo (especially a popular one). This helps to avoid confusion between two misleadingly similar icons and names.
The recent dispute between Adidas and Forever 21 demonstrates this point very well. Adidas sued Forever 21 for using its famous three-stripe mark on their clothing. The sportswear company has spent a fortune building and protecting the three-stripe design and claims that Forever 21 is violating trademark law by using it. The case had been in federal court for a while until Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy.
This goes to show the importance of trademark rights. Your brand design has to be representative of the products and services you provide but still be original. Icons and names that are too generic make for a weak logo, reducing your chances of getting trademarked.
Interestingly enough, descriptive words and designs for your products are inferior to suggestive ones. Let’s take an example. If you own a wine bar, naming it “The Wine Bar” or “The Wine Spot” might put you in a vulnerable position, as the name is way too common. Going for something less predictable or even a completely made-up name is a more intelligent choice.
It might be worth your time to study some logo design tips to give your signature mark meaning and strength. This will quickly increase the likelihood of your trademark application approval.
The next crucial step is to ensure no one already owns the rights to your logo design. To be on the safe side, run a search in the USPTO database via the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Keep in mind that this database includes federal trademarks only, not unregistered or state-level marks.
The search in the database is done through codes designated to specific design elements and images. Due to the vast variety of codes and filters, conducting an effective search can be extremely time-consuming. That’s what pushes a lot of business owners to hire an attorney to get some help with this process. Hiring an attorney comes at an additional charge, of course, but it might prove to save you money in the long run.
Once your logo is ready and the search is finished, it’s time to file your trademark application. You can do it online through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). You’ll be required to submit a high-quality image of your logo, examples of its intended use, and detailed information about your business.
Needless to say, you should fill out the application form correctly and carefully. An attorney might be of great help in this process as well. Check out the TEAS new application tutorial for more details.
Your application answer should arrive within six to nine months — if there are no delays or obstacles, that is.
Whew, at this point, you’re finally done with the application process. While waiting for an answer, make sure to check the status of your application once every few months. You can do it via the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. Failing to do so might cause you to miss an important deadline. The search is done with your serial or reference number.
Once your logo is registered for a trademark, you should watch out for any violation of your trademark rights. This process is what’s known as a trademark watch. You can do it yourself or hire a specialized expert. Whichever option you choose remember that, ultimately, you bear the responsibility of protecting your brand and your logo.
Your customers recognize your brand by your logo. Protecting it means protecting your business identity. The level of protection you need is determined by the size and the reach of your business. Small local brands might not require the hassle of trademarking a logo. As your company grows, so does its vulnerability to infringement.
Before you file your trademark application, do your research to guarantee that your logo is unique. Submitting a design that doesn’t meet the requirements will cause you unnecessary time and money loss. To navigate this process more smoothly, consider hiring a trademark attorney if your budget allows you to.
Speaking of budgets, if you find that getting an expert to design your logo is too expensive, here’s your alternative. Renderforest offers you a professional logo maker with a variety of logo categories to create a personalized and unique logo in just a few quick steps.
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