Have you ever noticed any company without a logo? Hopefully not! To bring business into existence, and a large company needs to trademark a logo. It acts as the face of the company. It is the first introduction to the audience. It helps businesses to differentiate their brand from its competitors. When you think about big brands like Nike, Apple, Microsoft, etc., the foremost thing that probably comes to your mind is their logos.
Since a company’s custom logo design plays a huge role, it is crucial to register it with the US Patent and Trademark office. Before we get into the process of how to trademark a logo, let’s first understand what a trademark is and how it is different from copyright, as a lot of people often get confused between these two terms.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is a symbol ™, word, design or phrase that recognizes and classifies one party’s source of products from another. A service mark is a symbol, world, design, or symbol that recognizes and classifies one party’s source of services from another.
For example logos, slogans, and brand names. Generally, the term ‘trademark’ is often used to refer to both a trademark and service mark. The concept of trademark stretches back to ancient times when artisans, working with ceramic or metal, imprinted their distinct mark called a maker’s mark on the finished products.
Nowadays, you can easily identify the difference between a high-quality piece of jewelry and imitation by the maker’s mark. A trademark is legal enforcement of such a mark, bought for physical products and digital assets. For example, the trademarks of an Apple brand are clearly evident (indicated by either the “RTM” or “®” symbol) on an iPad because the term “iPad” and the Apple logo are protected.
People immediately recognize that the device is manufactured by Apple, and presume the same quality level that they generally relate to Apple products.
What is Copyright?
A copyright “©” is a set of rights that are used to protect original work, which can be placed in physical form and communicated in some way. In order to communicate, the work needs to be published so that others can see it. The tangible form also comprises works in digital forms such as digital media, ebooks, or an online image.
Other works that can be copyright include poems, photographs, sculptures, musical compositions, industrial designs, computer software, dances, etc. The power of copyrights permits you to choose how the work should be made accessible to the audience.
Step by Step Guide: How to Trademark a Logo
- Come up with original logo design:
To start with the process, you first need to come up with an original logo design. You can design a logo in the form of an image, symbol, or a combination of both. You can also create it by simply using your business name. Whichever way you choose, make sure that it perfectly matches your brand personality and helps your audience to identify or remember you easily.
For instance, you have a fast-food restaurant and you specialize in selling burgers only. Inculcating an image of a burger in your fast food logo design can help you to communicate that you sell burgers only. Coming up with some other icon with a text ‘fast food restaurant’ can make people think that you sell all types of fast foods.
- Conduct a thorough research on your logo:
Once you design a logo, the next step is to conduct thorough research on the design. The reason behind this is to check if your design is bearing any resemblance to other business’s logo or not, especially in the same industry. Even if you are fully confident about the originality of your logo design, there are chances that your design might already be in use and trademarked.
Let’s take the same example as above. If, for instance, you have inculcated an image of burger in your logo design, there are huge chances that your competitor has also created the same design. It is because using an image of a burger in a fast-food logo design is quite common. To rescue you from the situation here is when a professional trademark attorney comes into the picture.
- Hire a Trademark Attorney:
A trademark attorney is a person who is qualified to involve in matters related to trademark law and practices and provides legal advice on trademark and design matters. Such professionals usually have powerful search tools that help them in navigating the trademark registration process in terms of how they can help a common person to register a logo.
They conduct in-depth research with the tools they have access to on the USPTO website and can also advise you in covering all your bases in terms of potential conflicts. Before submitting your final application, it’s always advisable to hire a trademark attorney than to find out later that you have ignored something important in your early steps.
- Specify your ‘mark’ and associated products/services:
To register the trademarks, the USPTO requires a few pieces of information. The first one is your mark or the brand element you are registering a trademark for. Here marks are your brand name and logo. You also need to specify the products and services you aim to apply trademark to. Your registered trademark will only apply to those products/services that you have mentioned in your application. So make sure you include all of them appropriately.
There is another important thing that needs to be taken care of is that for your company name and a logo, you should file separate applications.
Why? It is because a joint application will protect your company name and logo only when they get used together. You cannot stop anyone from using them individually.
- Choose a Class:
The United States Patent and Trademark Office classifies goods and services into 45 trademark classes – 34 for goods and 11 for services. Each class contains many goods and services, and by just looking at the class name, one cannot state which goods or services fall under which class.
For example, class 25 (clothing) contains t-shirts, aprons, shoes, dresses, and socks. Class 29 (poultry, meat, fish) not only contains milk and meat but also potato chips, jam, etc.
Class 30 (coffee, flour, rice) contains ice cream, spices, and cereal, and class 30 (coffee, flour, rice) comprises popcorn, spices, ice cream and cereal in addition to coffee.
If, for instance, you sell coffee beans to grocery stores, it means that you are selling a product under class 30. If you run a café, it means that you are providing services under class 43 (food & services). But if you run a café as well as sell coffee beans, it means that you need to register under both the classes.
- File your application:
The next step is to file a trademark application. To apply, you not only need to provide your business details but also examples of the way your logo will be used in commerce. The specificity of a logo – colours, location of design elements, and so on – means you have to be thorough in covering the details of your trademark. Here also, think about the importance of hiring a trademark attorney. The professional can help you ensure that you have filled the application correctly and completely. Once you file an application and submit it to the USPTO, you are done with a maximum of your work. Now the USPTO will review your application.
- Track your application status:
Similar to other legal processes, registering a trademark for a logo also requires patience. You need to keep tracking your application online. Once you submit your application, it may take five to seven days for your application to be added to the USPTO database. After that, you can start checking the status of your application online.
The registration process may take months or even years to complete. If your application lacks anything, you will receive an ‘office action’ from the examiner and will be given a time limit of up to six months to address the issue. If the ‘office action’ contains issues that cannot be fixed then you have to abandon your application and start over.
On the contrary, if you pass the examination for eligibility, then after a few months it will get published in the weekly Trademark Official Gazette. Within 30 days of publication, if no opposition is found, then your application will either be registered or ‘allowed’ pending completion of the ITU filings if required. Once your registration is issued, you may apply for a circle-R ® device to your logo, signifying federal registration.
- Stay On Top of Deadlines and Maintain Registration:
Once you succeed in registering your logo design, your work doesn’t end here. Maintaining registration is a continuous process. It is, therefore, crucial to be aware of the timelines and deadlines linked with your particular case. You should keep checking the USPTO website to know the right information for your particular case. You can also keep in touch with your hired trademark attorney. In many cases, companies are supposed to file registration maintenance documents after six years of registration, and then the 10th year and after every ten years.
Trademarking a logo may seem to be a tiring and time-consuming process. But it’s important to do that as there are many unscrupulous individuals out there who always keep their eyes on stealing creative intellectual property. So, follow these steps and secure the rights of your awesome logo!