If you've brainstormed a name for your new business for months, you probably can't wait to unveil the logo and debut your latest enterprise. First, though, it's a good idea to check whether the name is taken. If you don't conduct a trademark search early in the process and you learn later that your business name is already in use, it can cost you both professionally and financially.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a way for people to recognize your business or product in the marketplace and is how you distinguish yourself from other competitors. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a "word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services." A trademark generally refers to goods, while a service mark applies to services. Having these marks distinguishes you from competitors, offers legal protection, and creates your brand.
You can protect your trademark through common law, federal, or state protection.
What can you trademark?
A trademark is how individuals recognize your service or business in the marketplace. The following could be trademarked:
- A product name
- A business name
- A symbol or design
- A logo or label
- A sound
- Product packaging or label
To increase your chances of having your symbol, slogan, or name trademarked, make sure you have a strong mark. The USPTO defines the four types of marks:
- Fanciful or arbitrary
Distinct names, logos, or symbols have a higher likelihood of trademark protection.
How do you run a trademark search?
To begin, look through the trademarks registered at the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). This search shows registered marks and the respective trademark classes. There are 45 trademark classes—34 for goods and 11 for services. Searching through TESS is free. The USPTO website provides tips on how best to search for a particular trademark on goods or services. TESS will show inactive and active registrations for trademarks and applications. Searches can also be conducted at the Patent and Trademark Resource Center. For logo and design searches, use the USPTO Design Search Code Manual.
However, the trademark search doesn't end with TESS or the Patent and Trademark Resource Center. A common law trademark doesn't necessarily need to be registered with USPTO. By using a particular logo or service in commerce, the trademark is created. It is free to have a common law trademark, but it has limited protection.
To conduct a thorough trademark search, don't forget to do the following:
- Conduct a Google search using the possible names you may use for your business. Note what comes up in your particular industry.
- With web-based businesses, you can search for domain registrar names at Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
- Check your state trademarks through the Secretary of State Office to determine if yours is registered.
- Check Super Pages to determine if certain listings are already in use.
How much does it cost to trademark a name and logo?
In general, expect to pay hundreds of dollars to register trademarks at the federal USPTO. The precise fee, according to the USPTO, is dependent on two factors—the number of trademarks you seek to register and the classes of goods and services you'd like to trademark. If you're applying for multiple trademarks in multiple classes, expect to pay more fees.
Once your federal trademark is registered, you'll need to pay fees and file paperwork after five years to keep your trademark valid. You then pay renewal fees every 10 years. For renewals in state trademark protection, requirements vary depending on the state.
Find out more about Trademarks