To paraphrase the words of George Carlin, “We all have stuff . . . and our stuff is important!”
The real question is, how important is your business “stuff” to you and your company? When faced with the opportunity to develop, create, or dare to imagine a concept or service that is unique to you and your company, it is crucial to consider application for a trademark. Whereas copyright is more highly defined in the arena of literary/artistic works, and patents are geared towards inventions, trademarks are related to goods and services and the forms of identity associated with them. As defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” According to The Free Dictionary's Legal Dictionary, words that merely name the maker (but without particular lettering) or a generic name for the product are not trademarks. While a trademark may exist from its first use, it is wise to register a trademark with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office to prove its use and ownership.
To protect its usage and symbolic representation, PRI recently established a trademark for a business software application. In the process, we learned about the differences between copyright, patent, and trademark, as well as the legal steps one must follow to establish a trademark. Below are a few tips and experiences to consider when approaching the task of obtaining a trademark to protect your work.
- Research your concept/service to see if someone else is already using something similar. There may be infringement issues at the get-go. Use of another’s trademark (or one that is confusingly similar) is infringement and the basis for a lawsuit for damages for unfair competition and/or a petition for an injunction against the use of the infringing trademark.
- Research online to see if a name is already being widely used or a similar variation thereof that may cause mass confusion down the road.
- Speak to friends, colleagues, business associates, and an attorney who specializes in intellectual property. Their experience in dealing with establishing a trademark can help you further educate yourself in the process and provide valuable insight into things that you may not have considered such as cost, expansion, mobility of service, etc.
- Obtain a good trademark attorney. Again, get recommendations from friends, relatives, colleagues, business associates, etc., to find your way to an attorney that will allow you open access into the process and educate you along the way. A good attorney will not only derive what you desire (the actual trademark) but will also provide highly useful information about the process itself and protect you from any legal pitfalls.
- The cost of the process can range from $700–$2,000 depending on the extent of what you intend to trademark and do. But in the end, it’s worth it to have the legal know-how from a trusted professional that can guide you through the complex legal process.
- Provide your attorney with an information form that clarifies exactly what you want to trademark, the definition of what it is you are applying for, and any symbol associated with it.
- The attorney will conduct research within a national or international database (depending on the scope of your particular business model) to determine if anything already exists and if there are any infringements present.
- Once this process is complete and the attorney has established you are free and clear to establish your trademark, the process of legal paperwork begins. Although it may sound daunting, the attorney should walk you through everything and handle most of the paperwork.
- The actual process can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks depending on the speed of action of government agencies.
- Once the process is complete and your trademark is established, you are free to operate with your trademark at will to become a huge success and become bigger than Google! (It’s always good to think big.)
So, in a nutshell, be creative, think outside the box, and dare to dream. But, in that dream, always be sure to have proper legal presentation so your dream does not turn into a nightmare. And—final thing—always dream BIG.