Your company logo is one of the most valuable assets of your enterprise. It communicates your brand identity and carries your company’s personality and values. Given the importance of your company logo, you should protect it by registering it as a trademark.
The best possible protection for your logo is offered by a federal trademark registration with the USPTO. It allows you to claim and enforce your trademark rights throughout the U.S.
In this article, you will learn about the different levels of trademark protection and how to trademark a logo. We will walk you through the entire process from creating an original logo design to successfully filling out your trademark application and enforcing your trademark rights.
The 3 Types of Trademark Protection
Before we go into the steps on how to trademark a logo, it is important to understand the different levels of trademark protection before you apply for trademark registration.
1. Common law protection
Common law trademark rights provide limited legal protection through the proven first-use use of a trademark in commerce within a geographic region. A business that uses its logo, business name, or distinct phrases in connection with its goods and services is protected under common law even without registering its trademark.
A key limitation of common law trademarks is the geographic restrictions they imply. If you use your company logo to offer your products, you own the superior rights for your intellectual property in the geographic area the mark is actively used. However, it does not prevent any third party from using your logo anywhere else or from someone else registering the same mark on a federal level.
While common law trademarks have the appeal of low administrational work, these advantages are often outweighed by their downsides. The geographical restrictions of common law trademarks make enforcement difficult and leave the door open for others to copy your logo or company name. Moreover, common law trademarks can hinder a trademark application on a federal level.
2. State protection
State trademark rights require formal registration of your mark within the state you are using it. They grant exclusive rights to the trademark owner within the state of registration.
Like common law trademarks, state-level registration of your logo would not prevent another business to register your mark on a federal level or use your logo in another state. State-level trademarks can quickly become insufficient when small businesses grow and expand their radius of operation, effectively limiting a business’s ability to expand into new markets.
3. Federal trademark protection and its benefits
While common law and state trademark rights offer limited protection, registering your trademark with the USPTO offers the highest level of protection as it secures your rights nationwide. The benefits of a federal trademark registration include:
a) Trademark ownership
Trademark registration for your logo with the USPTO legally manifests ownership of your mark throughout the U.S. This adds value to your trademark and transforms it into an asset as it gives you exclusive rights to use your logo in commerce.
b) Notice of ownership
Your federally registered trademark will be published in the USPTO’s trademark database. This gives notice to anyone who is searching for similar marks that your trademark is protected. Additionally, you are allowed to attach the symbol ® to your trademark which decreases the risk of third parties infringing on your trademark.
c) National protection
Protection of your trademark across the U.S. can be beneficial even for small businesses that have a regional focus. When businesses grow over time–either through regional expansion of retail stores or through e-commerce–federal trademarks put you in a stronger position if someone contests your mark.
d) International implications
Federal trademarks provide protection against goods from overseas that infringe on your brand in the U.S. market. A U.S. trademark registration will also help you to register your trademark internationally due to services from other trademark offices overseas.
e) Advantages in court cases
Sometimes, trademark conflicts can only be settled in court. A registered federal trademark gives you the ability to bring an infringement lawsuit in federal court and backs you with proof of ownership. Depending on the case, you can expect substantial compensation if the trademark violation caused business losses and can pursue statutory damages.
The 4 Steps to Trademark Your Logo
Based on what we have discussed so far, registering your company logo with the USPTO protects your trademark against infringers and enhances the ability to grow your business. In the following, we will walk you through the steps on how to trademark a logo.
1. Create an original logo design
The purpose of your company logo is to communicate your brand identity distinctively and express your company’s character and values. The options for creating an original logo design are endless and imply a creative process.
Font-based logos consist of your company name alone in a unique typeface. Literal illustrations combine a graphic with the brand name. Abstract symbols like the Apple logo use just a symbol and are intended to create an immediate identification of the brand.
Whichever design you choose for your logo–graphics, symbols, text, or a combination of these elements–there are two requirements your logo has to meet for registering it as a trademark; First, it has to make your products easily identifiable with your brand and should not cause confusion among customers about the origin of your goods and services. Second, once you have created your logo, make sure to consistently use your logo without alterations to mark your goods and services.
2. Conduct thorough research on your logo
Before you apply for federal trademark registration with your logo, it is important to do an in-depth search on similar designs that might already be trademarked. Just because you cast your own creative idea into a logo, doesn’t mean that you are the first person who used a certain design. That’s why research is essential to prevent you from the pitfall of conflicts with another trademark owner which can be costly and tedious.
When researching logo trademarks–also called clearance search–you include a number of factors covering text-based name trademarks, imagery, and stylization. The USPTO provides a trademark database where you can search if any trademark has already been registered or applied for registration. The comprehensive database assigns codes to different types of design elements which allows you to filter your search based on your logo concept.
Business owners face two hurdles when using the USPTO’s database; Since the search system is advanced–applying hundreds of different codes–non-professionals might not be able to do the clearance search as thoroughly as necessary. Second, there may be trademarks that are not in the USPTO’s database that have rights over yours, so you should include other sources like state trademark databases.
3. Get help from a professional trademark attorney
As the clearance search is an extensive endeavor, you should get help from a professional trademark attorney to guide you through the process. The vast number of design elements to consider–even for a simple logo–can quickly become overwhelming when searching for similar marks.
Trademark attorneys have powerful search tools that go beyond the sources accessible to non-professionals and include a more in-depth clearance search. Furthermore, trademark attorneys bring value through their expertise and experience in the field. This includes–but is not limited to–assisting and advising you in covering your bases of potential conflicts.
4. Fill out the trademark application form
Once you and your trademark attorney have ensured that your logo is not already trademarked or pending, you can start the application process with the USPTO. The procedure can be challenging, due to the vast amount of information you have to provide. This includes the details of your business and examples of your logo in any possible way you might be using it in commerce.
When describing the details of your logo, you are required to be highly specific and thorough about the logo’s colors, the orientation of design elements, and other characteristics.
Besides setting out the details of your logo, you’ll need to display in which ways the logo will be used. This could be on a merchandise tag, a storefront or website, and/or the product packaging for example.
Just as recommended for the trademark clearance search, you should work with a trademark attorney to help you with the application process. You ensure that you fill out the application form correctly and completely, without accidentally omitting logo versions that you want to protect.
Once you submit your complete and accurate trademark application to the USPTO, you have reached an important milestone for trademarking your logo. The review process will usually take six to eight months. During this time, your application makes its way through the submission queue to reach a government examining attorney.
How to Enforce Your Trademark Registration
Here are three important steps to take to ensure your trademark registration remains intact and provides you with the broadest possible scope of protection:
1. Use the “circled R” symbol
Once you receive a federal trademark registration for your logo, you may begin using the circled R symbol (®). The symbol communicates the highest level of protection that a registered trademark can receive. It serves as a source of trust for consumers, and it can fend off competitors from infringing on your registered logo. Make sure to attach your registered trademark symbol with your logo on the multiple usage forms of your mark. This can include product packaging or labeling, marketing and advertising, art and copy, your website, and other online presences.
2. File trademark renewals and maintenance documents
To ensure that your federal trademark registration stays valid over time, you have to actively maintain it. This includes continuously using your trademark in commerce, filing trademark maintenance documents, and keeping your correspondence information updated.
As a trademark owner, you are required to continuously use your trademark to maintain your registration and keep its benefits. This is important, as unused trademarks can be abandoned and the registration could be canceled by a third party. Moreover, alterations or a re-design of your logo can lead to a cancellation of the original registration.
In addition to using your logo, you regularly have to file renewal documents under U.S. law within the required deadlines. If you don’t file your renewal documents and fees on time, your registration will expire or be canceled. In case you still actively use your trademarked logo but miss out on submitting your documents, you will lose federal trademark protection and instead be downgraded to limited common law or unregistered trademark rights.
Lastly, make sure you keep your e-mail address up to date so that you don’t miss important notifications regarding your trademark registration.
3. Take action against trademark infringers
Registering and maintaining your logo as a trademark are essential steps toward protecting your logo from infringements. They will ensure that you can claim your trademark rights when unauthorized parties use your logo. However, they don’t fully prevent infringers from stealing your logo.
Technically, trademark infringement occurs when the usage of a brand’s logo or other identifying features causes confusion among consumers about the origin of goods and services. Infringers and third parties that use your logo or similar versions of it weaken the force of expression of your logo. As such, when more and more actors blur the lines between similar-looking logos, the value of your original logo decreases tremendously and similarly your ability to enforce upon it.
To enforce protection against possible infringements, implement trademark monitoring services in marketplaces, and new U.S. government application filings. As a trademark owner, it is your responsibility to monitor the usage of your marks and related infringements. This includes competitors and individuals who unauthorizedly use your logo or confusingly similar versions of it. If you don’t take action against infringements, you risk losing rights in the trademark or the ability to enforce it.
We now know that federal trademark registration with the USPTO offers the highest level of protection for your logo as it secures your trademark rights throughout the U.S. The registration process requires a vast amount of information and precision and it doesn’t automatically shield you from infringements.
That’s why you should work with a specialized trademark attorney that helps you with trademarking and monitoring your logo.
If you need assistance or further information on how to trademark your logo, you can contact our trademark attorneys today.