A Brief Q&A on Trademarks

There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there regarding the intellectual property protection known as “trademarks.” These tools are vital for most businesses in order to protect their unique brand, but many business owners simply do not understand what they are or how they work.

Thus, we have put together a brief Q&A session in our latest blog to provide answers to some of the most common questions we get regarding trademarks. Read on to learn more, and if you have questions which we have not answered today, please do not hesitate to contact Integrated General Counsel today!

What exactly does a trademark protect?

Trademarks are used to protect various kinds of property that are used to identify your company’s products or services. Generally speaking, trademarks can protect most things that contribute to your public brand. This could include your business name, logos, slogans, designs, and other symbols.

When does protection begin?

Unlike copyright protection, which technically goes into effect as soon as an original work like a song or a work of art is created, trademark protection is not immediate. And while it is possible to develop some degree of common law trademark protection by simply utilizing a symbol or mark to represent your company and brand, it can be very difficult to take legal action against an entity which infringes upon a trademark that has not been federally registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Truly enforceable trademark protection is established once the mark is officially registered with the USPTO.

Who can obtain a trademark?

Just about any individual or legal entity can apply to register a trademark. The entity which will own the trademark is not required to have US Citizenship, but they must already utilize the mark or have a real intent to actually utilize the trademark for some sort of commerce.

How do I register a trademark and how much will it cost?

Anyone wishing to register a trademark with the USPTO must submit an application. Their application must include the name of the entity which will own the mark, the type of entity—individual, corporation, LLC, etc—that will own the mark, the citizenship of the entity, a significant amount of information on how the mark is already used or how you intend to use it, as well as drawings of the mark and potentially real life examples of the mark known as “specimens” which demonstrate how the mark is used in commerce.

The application will be examined by the USPTO for various eligibility necessities such as not being so similar to another registered trademark as to cause consumer confusion. If the application is approved, it will be published for opposition, meaning 30 days are provided to third parties who may wish to dispute the registration of the trademark on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on them. If the trademark clears opposition, then it will be officially registered. Currently, the cost to register will range between $275-$375 per class of goods or services depending on the type of application you file.

How long does it last?

Federal trademark protection automatically lasts for a duration of 10 years, and owners may renew the trademark for an unlimited number of 10 year periods. However, between the fifth and sixth year of the initial 10 year registration, the owner must file a Declaration of Use to keep the registration active.

Do I have to actively use the trademarked property?

Yes. A registered trademark which is not actively used by the owner may be considered abandoned even if the owner fulfills all lawful renewal and registration requirements. Abandonment means the owner will lose trademark rights, and any other entity can legally utilize the mark.

What happens if someone uses my trademark without my permission?

If someone uses your trademark without permission or legal license to do so, this likely constitutes infringement. If someone has infringed upon your trademark rights, you may be able to file a lawsuit in order to force them to stop using the mark and potentially receive compensation for damages.

However, you should keep in mind that trademark law—and intellectual property law in general—is incredibly complex. There are numerous nuances which are almost always in play, and few IP infringement cases are as straightforward as they seem. Additionally, actually obtaining enforceable trademark protection for your intellectual property can be a difficult process as well. It is essential that you enlist the guidance of a skilled intellectual property attorney to help you exercise and protect your trademark rights. Contact Integrated General Counsel today to learn more.

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Written by Integrated General Counsel

Our focus includes handling a variety of corporate matters and also includes litigation in state and federal courts. Our current practice includes providing transactional services and representing a variety of small and medium-sized companies as their outsourced general counsel.