How do you distinguish your business or a product from your competitors? What do you use to help your business stand out? Your business name, logos or slogans are all tools to set your company apart and help build your company's unique identity. A registered trademark can protect that identity, depending on where you plan on using it—either in your state alone, nationally or internationally. And you need to know the differences in registration to make sure you get the right protection.
If you run a local business and have no plans to expand outside of Maryland, a state-registered trademark might be all you need. Typically offering more protection than a common law trademark, a state trademark can help protect against other businesses in your state using your registered business name, logo or slogan. In order to use your trademark and claim rights to use it exclusively in your state, you need to be sure that no other national or state business is currently using it in connection with goods or services like yours. If a local business in another state is using the same name, logo or slogan, but has either not registered at all, or has registered only in their state, you may be free to apply for trademark protection in your state. If another business has a national registration, you will want to be more cautious, and probably contact a lawyer to discuss your options.
So how do you find out if some other person or entity has the same trademark in your state that you'd like to have? The best way is to do a trademark search of your state's records. Because researching state records can be difficult, it's often a better idea to use a trademark search service than to do it yourself.*
Once a trademark search has been completed, and if you're comfortable with the results, you can file a trademark application with your state. For more information and to get a state trademark application, contact the Maryland Secretary of State.
However, if you are planning to expand your business into other states, or even nationally—by selling goods online or through a mail order catalog, for example—you should consider applying for federal trademark protection. Federal trademark registration provides far greater trademark rights than either common law or state registration, and secures benefits such as official notice of your claim to the mark, evidence of ownership, the ability to sue infringers in federal court and more. For more information or to apply for federal trademark protection, click here.
*LegalZoom offers multiple trademark search products, including federal/state trademark search, comprehensive U.S. search, and international trademark search.