Protecting Your Brand With A Trademark

You've come up with a brand new name or logo for your company, perhaps even a catchy slogan.

You want to hit the streets with it, but before you do you should stop and consider whether you're going to protect it with a trademark, say experts. The last thing you want to do is spend lots of cash marketing your brand identity, only to find out down the road that all or part of it can't be trademarked.

"It's important to make sure that your name isn't being used as a trademark anywhere else," says Karl Barnhart of CoreBrand, a brand consulting firm in Manhattan that has its own company name trademarked. "You're liable to get a cease and desist order, and you don't want to have to name your company twice."

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of the above, that identifies and distinguishes one company's products or services from another. Think Google or the Nike Swoosh. It can also extend to a color, smell or sound (e.g., the NBC chimes).

"It helps differentiate the brand," says Barnhart, noting that there are a couple of ways you can establish a trademark.

You can file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., explains John A. DeMaro, chair of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek's intellectual property practice in Uniondale. You would then have to go through a review process, and if the trademark is registered, you would be allowed to display the ® symbol next to your mark, says DeMaro. This will alert competitors that you are claiming ownership of the mark and have exclusive rights to use it nationwide.

There is no requirement, though, to file a trademark application, explains Aimee L. Kaplan of Collard & Roe Pc in Roslyn, vice chairwoman of the intellectual property committee of the Nassau County Bar Association. In the United States, "common law" trademark rights are established through use of a mark on products and/or services in commerce, she says. In this case, you would display the familiar TM symbol next to your mark to establish ownership.

Registration, though, provides greater protection, considering that common law rights are generally restricted to the geographic area in which you used the mark first and can be harder and more expensive to prove, says Kaplan.

"It's easier to defend," notes Barnhart, adding that CoreBrand is a registered trademark.

To start the registration process, go to index_tm.html. But in general, the first thing you'll need to do is a trademark search to make sure your mark is available, says DeMaro. You can utilize the patent office's electronic search system ( /trademarks.htm) or order a search from an outside firm.

Beyond that, it's important to set forth the specific goods and/or services for which you are seeking registration and pick the proper identification ( html/tidm.html), he adds.

The process can get complicated, so you might want to enlist the help of a trademark attorney. Attorneys generally charge from $500 to file an application up to several thousand dollars if your application is contested or denied.

About 25 percent of all applications submitted to the patent office annually are denied for various reasons, including likelihood of confusion with another mark.

Some other reasons a mark may be denied include if it's too generic a term or if it's merely descriptive, meaning it's a term that describes a feature of your goods, explains Cynthia Lynch, administrator for trademark policy and procedure with the patent office.

It's possible to have the same mark as someone else as long as it's for completely different goods and services, says Lynch, who uses Delta Air Lines and Delta Faucet as an example of this.

The bottom line is you don't want to confuse the public.

Trademark FAQs

- To get a federally registered trademark, you must be engaged in interstate commerce.

- You can file an "in use" or "intent to use" application; a registration is only issued when it's in use.

- The approval process is generally 12 to 18 months.

- The initial term of a trademark lasts 10 years; between years five and six you must prove you're still using it, with renewal occurring between years nine and 10.

Source: DeMaro and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

by Jamie Herzlich, Newsday, Monday, June 30, 2008


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