Did you know that some of the most successful restaurant chains and franchises in the world got their start as locally owned small businesses? From as few as one or two independently-operated locations, these restaurants grew to become household names the world over. Once these businesses began to grow and be more nationally successful, their names, logos, and brand identities became very desirable. Without the protections offered by a national trademark, these restaurants may have experienced a bumpier road to growth – trademark court battles, brand imitators, and fights against infringement. Whether you’re considering opening a restaurant, or are already operating one and wish to give yourself greater protection under federal trademark law, you need to register your trademark with the United States Patent & Trademark Office as soon as possible in order to prime your business for success.

The trademark application and approval process can be a bit difficult to decipher and navigate. It can help to think of it in three steps – this can make it easier for you to get generally organized and prepared for what you’ll need to do, and what you can expect, once you begin the trademark process. Keep in mind that within these three steps, there are subtleties, technicalities, and distinctions that require special attention and expertise. Should you run into any confusion or difficulty, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced trademark attorney to assist you and prevent any errors or delays in your restaurant’s trademark application.

1) Conduct a trademark search for your restaurant’s name.

Before you can achieve the protections against infringement offered by a federal trademark, you need to make sure that you yourself aren’t infringing on an existing name. Conducting a national trademark search is the best way to do this. Before you begin the search, you’ll want to settle on a name for your restaurant – keep in mind that for any trademark, regardless of industry, the less descriptive of your product, service, and industry your name is, the better. The USPTO favors names that are completely unrelated to your service – or, even better, names that consist of completely made up, brand new words or phrases – above all other trademarks. This regulation helps the USPTO achieve one of the primary goals of trademarks – to prevent confusion among consumers with regard to the source of a product. If you decide to open a delicatessen, for example, and choose a name including the word “NYC Deli” or “Philly Sandwhiches,” the USPTO may grant you a trademark, but it will be considered very weak. A weak mark is more vulnerable to challenge or cancellation, and should be avoided.

Once you come up with a strong trademark name for your restaurant, then you’ll research it to be sure it’s not the same or similar to one that’s already out there. You’ll need to search both registered and unregistered marks – even unregistered marks are entitled to limited protections under US trademark law. Despite these protections, a registered mark is highly preferable to an unregistered one.

The USPTO offers a limited search tool via its website, but a trademark attorney can provide a much greater level of assistance while you’re researching your restaurant trademark – they have access to powerful tools that are more in line with the search methods USPTO attorneys will use to review your name and application later on.

2) Complete your restaurant trademark application.

Once you’ve determined to your satisfaction that you’ve selected a strong trademark that’s unlikely to infringe upon an existing one – meaning it’s not too closely similar to another restaurant or food-related mark – it’s time for you to fill out your trademark application to submit it to the USPTO. One thing to keep in mind – remember those small businesses that grew to national chains that I talked about earlier? Examples like those are why you want to register a federal trademark rather than a local one. With a federal trademark, you’re set up for national growth from the outset, and you’re protected nationwide – which means that you won’t run into problems like a similarly named restaurant hundreds of miles away that may prevent or impede your expansion.

Aside from the standard information about your company, your restaurant’s trademark application will include your trademark specimen – this shows how your trademark is being used on your storefront or menus. It is important that the trademark you file for and the way it is used on your signage is identical.   This is a common error made in trademark applications filed without the assistance of a trademark attorney.

3) Follow up properly with your restaurant trademark.

After the six to eight month period during which the USPTO will review your trademark application, provided all parameters are met, the USPTO will grant your trademark registration. Now that you are the owner of a registered trademark, you’re entitled to broad legal protections against infringement, you can challenge other marks or applications that you feel are too close to yours, and you may collect greater damages in federal court if infringement by someone else results in lost revenue for you. You should also use your mark properly – with the small circled “R” next to it – and actively police it so that it can’t be weakened or diluted by other restaurants using a same or similar name. By following these actions and steps, you’ll make sure that your strong and well-protected trademark provides all the assets you’ll need to encourage business growth and success.