The name of a product that your company manufactures or sells is one of the primary things that people look to protect with a trademark registration (the other being a service offering). Remember that when you register a trademark for a product, you’re protecting its distinctive name which identifies the product as a good sold by you or your company. A trademark for your product is the most effective way to ensure that no other company can potentially cut in on your profits by selling similar products or goods with your brand name on them. It safeguards the earning potential of your business. How can you trademark the name of your product? Follow these five steps.
1) Come up with a unique brand name for your product.
First, here’s what you want to avoid: descriptive or generic names for your products. If you think about it, there’s no way for those types of names to be unique – they’re the first qualities or associations that most people would have if they were selling a similar product. Examples of names that fall into this category are anything that probably seems obvious to you – things like “Salty Pretzels,” or “Canvas Shoes.”
The most surefire way to make sure you have a unique name? Invent a word – the United States Trademark and Patent Office refers to these as “coined terms.” Think of Kodak or Kleenex – they have no other meaning besides the brands that they refer to. They’re words created specifically to sell those products. And they have a lot of distinctiveness and brand equity.
Unrelated words or phrases are also typically successful – Apple Computers, for instance. Terms and words referred to by the USPTO as “suggestive” are also ideas – think of Poland Spring water or Energizer batteries. These names are more unique than descriptive names, but also do a better job of identifying the product than an arbitrary or coined name. That being said, after choosing the name for your product, you want to make extra certain that no one else has come up with your name before and registered it as a trademark (or is just using it in the marketplace). Getting through that research process is an important component of Step 2.
2) Hire a trademark attorney.
Regardless of whether you’re a first-timer or have been through the trademark registration process before, a trademark attorney is always a valuable asset to have in your corner. For starters, they have access to trademark research tools just as powerful as those that examining attorneys at the USPTO will use to determine the uniqueness and viability of your name. They are also experts in navigating the trademark process, which can become bumpy rather quickly. Efficiency and accuracy are of the essence in trademark applications, and trademark attorneys can make sure you’re covered in both areas.
3) Perform a trademark search on the selected brand name.
When you’re filing an application, a trademark search means more than just a standard search engine query. You’ll want to go even more in-depth than the search tool provided by the USPTO. A trademark search means that you want to make sure that there are no similar names for similar products out there – and it’s nearly impossible to search through all the possible configurations that could be called “similar” on your own. Alternate spellings, “sound-alikes,” different spacing or formatting of a name – these are just the tip of the iceberg for possible similarities that could cause your application to be rejected. Remember that a trademark attorney can use many more tools and has extensive experience in covering all the possible bases for similar or easily confused names, giving you the best chance of success.
4) File your trademark application with the USPTO.
This step is where the paperwork really gets serious, not to mention the supporting materials required. To trademark a product, you’ll have to fill out all the required areas of the USPTO application completely and accurately. You’ll need information such as the name of the owner of the trademark, a legal description of the goods that will be protected by the trademark, the date of your first use in commerce (or a claim for intent-to-use), and, a correspondence address to which the USPTO can send examination questions (this would be the address of your trademark attorney should you hire legal counsel for the process). Errors at this step are one of the top reasons that trademark applications get delayed or sent back for clarification. A poorly filled out, incomplete, or erroneous application could even be grounds for rejection – a situation you definitely want to avoid.
5) Follow through with the USPTO during the application process.
Once your completed application makes it through that initial vetting step, an examining attorney at the USPTO will conduct their own review of your product name to determine to their satisfaction that your trademark bears no similarity or chance of confusion with an existing mark. As you might imagine, this process can be fairly time-consuming. With a perpetual backlog of applications, it will be several month before your application gets reviewed. From there, the process can even longer to get a final registration – normally about 8 months from the filing of the trademark application to receiving the final registration.
After the product trademark is approved and registered, you can put the public on notice that you received a registered trademark – with the small circled “R” next to it. (Prior to this, you can use the small letters “TM.”) Be sure to follow through on your responsibilities in protecting your trademark – keeping an eye out for potential similarities between other companies that may come along, and preventing your product name from entering “generic” usage. In addition, periodic renewals will be due on the trademark registration.
And there you have it – start to finish, the five steps to trademarking your product. Be original, diligent, and thorough throughout the process – and use all the tools available to you – and you’ll have the greatest chance of success.