How to Trademark a Company Name

by Jennifer Kiesewetter in

TLDR

  • Intellectual property includes copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and trademarks, all of which contribute to the value of a startup. For your startup, you can trademark both your goods and services.
  • According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is “any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors."
  • A unique phrase such as a tag line, slogan, or motto can help your startup create brand recognition in the marketplace, helping to refine your competitive edge.
  • Similarly, if your startup has a unique corporate name or trade name, then you can also trademark your startup’s name.
  • However, to trademark your company’s name, you must make sure it’s not similar to another name or phrase that has already been trademarked.
  • Next, you’ll identify your mark format, such as a “standard character mark, as stylized/design mark, or a sound mark.”
  • Then, you’ll set up a USPTO.gov account online. Next, you’ll complete and file your application online.
  • Once your trademark application is approved and the USPTO provides you with a certificate of registration, you may use a ® symbol, confirming that the U.S. government officially trademarks your startup’s name or phrase.
  • In determining the cost of your trademark, you’ll look at three components: (1) how many marks for which you’re applying; (2) the number of classes into which your products and services fall; and (3) which option you choose to file online.
  • To assure the USPTO that you are continuing to use the trademark for its registered purpose, you must submit a sworn statement confirming such between the trademark’s fifth and sixth anniversary of its registration.
  • On the 10th anniversary of the trademark’s registration, you must offer actual proof, such as a picture of your trademarked product or service. You must provide this proof every ten years.

Many startups are founded on their intellectual property assets, often encouraging investors and lenders fund the young company. Intellectual property includes copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and trademarks, all of which contribute to the value of a startup.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is “any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.” For your startup, you can trademark both your goods and services. While your goods may be trademarked, you’ll protect your services through a “service mark,” which is another type of trademark.

In this article, we’re going to delve into how to trademark your startup’s name.

The Difference Between a Trade Name and a Trademark

Before we jump into how to trademark the name of your startup, we first need to distinguish a trademark from a trade name. Legally, these two concepts are different, although both help you establish marketplace recognition.

A trade name is your startup’s legal name, the one you registered with your state when you founded your company. Often, according to your state rules, your startup's trade name must be followed by a corporate identifier, such as LLC, Inc., or LP, depending on your formation.

A trademark, on the other hand, identifies your startup’s products and services. A trademark does not mean that you “legally own a particular word or phrase [preventing] others from using it.” Instead, according to the USPTO, with a trademark, “you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.”

For example, if you trademark a phrase for your fintech startup, that does not mean you can prevent a local landscaping company from using the same phrase. However, suppose another fintech company starts using a phrase similar to your trademarked one. In that case, it could cause confusion in your industry, potentially leading to legal action to defend your trademark.

Can I Trademark a Phrase or Company Name?

Using a unique phrase -- such as a tag line, slogan, or motto -- can help your startup create brand recognition in the marketplace, helping to refine your competitive edge. Similarly, if your startup has a unique corporate name or trade name, then you can also trademark its name. However, to trademark your company’s name, you must make sure it’s not similar to another name or phrase that has already been trademarked.

Before you settle on a business name or phrase, you may want to use the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), to search for similar names that have registered trademarks. This initial search can save you potential headaches down the road.

Keep in mind, though, that if you trademark your startup’s name, it must be unique. Vague names cannot be trademarked. For example, “if the name is too vague, like The Ice Cream Shop, it is unlikely to be eligible for a trademark. Something like Iguana Ice Cream would be more likely to receive a trademark since it joins common words in a unique way.”

Additionally, if you offer different product lines, you may want to trademark each one. For example, “Ford is a trademark of the Ford Motor Company, which also has trademarks for lines of vehicles such as the F-150, Mustang, Ranger, and Explorer.”

How to Trademark a Phrase

To prevent someone else from using your startup’s name or a phrase related to your company, you need to understand the trademark process. First, as described above, you need to choose your startup name or related phrase, searching TESS to confirm that your company name, slogan, tag line, or motto is unique and not already trademarked.

The USPTO states that choosing a trademark “must be done with thought and care, because not every mark is registrable with the USPTO. Nor is every mark legally protectable, that is, some marks may not be capable of serving as the basis for a legal claim by the owner seeking to stop others from using a similar mark on related goods or services.”

Because of this, the USPTO encourages new trademark owners to consider: (1) “whether the mark you want to register is registrable, and (2) how difficult it will be to protect your mark based on the strength of the mark selected.” Keep in mind that the USPTO only registers trademarks; it does not help you police any illegal use of them.

Next, you’ll identify your mark format, such as a “standard character mark, as stylized/design mark, or a sound mark.” The USPTO has instructional videos helping you to make the correct mark format determination. You’ll also select your trademark class, which is the USPTO’s classification system for products and services.

Once you’ve completed the above steps, you’re ready to begin the trademark application process. Initially, you’ll set up a USPTO.gov account online. You’ll then complete and file your application online. The USPTO has numerous tutorials and FAQs if you have any questions during this process. Or you may want to hire an attorney to help secure a defensible trademark on your startup’s behalf.

You can monitor the status of your application through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. Once your trademark application is approved, and the USPTO provides you with a certificate of registration, you may use a ® symbol, confirming that the U.S. government officially trademarks your startup’s name or phrase. This symbol also gives constructive notice to others that you have the exclusive right to use your registered trademark nationwide.

How Much Does a Trademark Cost

Now that we’ve walked through the process of how to obtain a trademark, let’s look at the costs. In determining the cost of your trademark, you’ll look at three components: (1) how many marks you’re applying for; (2) the number of classes into which your products and services fall; and (3) which option you choose to file online.

Most trademark fees are calculated on a per-class basis. Thus, if your trademark falls into more than one class, that will impact your costs as you’ll have to pay a fee for each applicable class. Your trademark cost also depends upon the “filing basis” you selected on your application. Your filing basis is essentially the legal reason for which you can claim a trademark, such as “use in commerce.”

Finally, you can choose one of two options for your initial application fee: TEAS PLUS or TEAS Standard. TEAS is USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Application System. To file with PLUS, the filer pays $250 per class of goods/services. To file with Standard, the filer pays more ($350 per class of goods/services) but has fewer initial requirements.

If you need to request an extension of time for your filing, you’ll pay an additional $125 per class. And, of course, if you engage an attorney to help you through the trademark process, you’ll also have legal fees.

How Long Does a Trademark Last

Now that you’ve made it through the trademark application process for your startup, you may wonder how long your trademark registration is valid. Essentially, once a trademark is issued, it does not expire, as long as you’re continuing to use it for its registered purpose.

To assure the USPTO that you are continuing to use the trademark for its registered purpose, you must submit a sworn statement confirming such between the trademark’s fifth and sixth anniversary of its registration. On the tenth anniversary of the trademark’s registration, you must offer actual proof, such as a picture of your trademarked product or service. You must provide this proof every ten years.

How to Renew Trademark

When you are renewing your startup's trademark or providing actual proof of your trademark’s use for its registered purpose, you must file the following documentation by the applicable deadlines to keep your trademark current:

  • “Between the fifth and sixth years after the registration date 

File a Declaration of Use and/or Excusable Nonuse under Section 8 

  • Between the ninth and 10th years after the registration date

File the first Declaration of Use and/or Excusable Nonuse and an Application for Renewal under Sections 8 and 9

  • Every 10 years after that (between the 19th and 20th years, 29th and 30th years, etc.)

File subsequent Declarations of Use and/or Excusable Nonuse and an Application for Renewal under Sections 8 and 9.”

As a courtesy, the USPTO will send you a reminder when you have a deadline approaching. However, the ultimate responsibility lies with you to make sure your startup's trademark is renewed.

By registering your trademark and keeping it renewed, you are certifying your legal ownership of the startup name or phrase, giving you exclusive rights to use it anywhere nationally. With your trademarks as a valuable part of your startup, you want to make sure they are managed correctly. You can easily secure a registered trademark yourself, or you can hire a professional to help you through the process.

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