I find it amazing that U.S. companies will spend billions of dollars every year to build and support their brands, yet often fail to protect their creative assets. Logos, word marks, tag lines, certain color combinations and other identifiers that are unique to specific products and services are worth protecting. As your business grows, those trademarks will be central to strengthening the corporate identity and sustaining brand loyalty.
Why register trademarks?
Obtaining registrations through the United States Patent and Trademark Office is a major step in protecting the core elements that define a brand. By obtaining a registered trademark you have greater ability to prevent unauthorized use of your logos, word marks, etc. and will be empowered to seek legal redress if your creative assets are used by competitors, detractors and others seeking to advance their own interests.
If you don’t register brand assets, they’re possibly open to theft, and your ability to obtain a legal remedy for misuse or abuse may be limited.
Difference between TM and ®
There is common misperception that the TM and “Circle-R” marks have the same meaning, but there are significant differences.
- The TM signifies common-law rights in a trademark. It is used to protect unregistered marks and informs the public that you are claiming a logo, word mark, tag line, etc. as a trademark. The TM is often used by individuals or corporations while in the process of obtaining a registered trademark, but may also be used by those who wish to declare their ownership of a creative asset without officially registering it. However, use of the symbol does not guarantee unfettered protection under trademark law and could leave your intellectual property open to misuse or theft.
- A registered trademark symbol – the Circle-R – denotes a mark which has been registered with the USPTO. Registering a trademark gives you exclusive rights in specific industries, product categories and/or service classes, and provides you the legal ability to obtain damages should your mark be infringed upon. Registered trademarks deter imitators who may wish to profit from your brand and others who may wish to harm your public image.
Although you are not required to employ the services of a trademark attorney when seeking to obtain a registration, it is highly advisable. The process can be complex and involves:
- Researching to assure the brand you wish to register is unique
- Classifying your marks within specific industries and product lines
- Addressing challenges to trademark registration applications
- Responding to USPTO inquires
Trademark attorneys can also help you understand your rights as an applicant… and eventually as a registered trademark owner.
Obtaining the initial registration can take a couple of years. After five years of using a registered trademark, a lawyer can file paperwork to have your mark designated as incontestable. If that application is approved, you have a trademark that is immune to most legal challenges. It is indisputably yours.
Deciding whether to register your brand assets should be done on a case-by-case basis. Consider the cost versus the benefits. You may decide you won’t need the enforceable power of a Circle-R designation and that a TM will suffice. Using the TM designation is free and requires no official paperwork.
On the other hand, you may believe your brand assets need the strongest protection, in which case, I recommend you consider initiating federal registration as soon as possible.