How to Trademark A Phrase

There’s more to your company’s identity than just your name and logo. When you think of some of the biggest brands out there, they almost always use some kind of phrase to supplement and summarize their identity: a slogan, tagline, catchphrase, or company motto. Done effectively, these phrases can contribute as much to the perception and selection of a particular business as the product or service itself.

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The Importance of a Trademark Registration for a Slogan or Phrase

A phrase, such as a slogan or tagline, can acquire value and play a major role in your business’s success, so it’s important to trademark any phrases you use to protect your company identity against infringement through registration. Once you do so, you’re safeguarded nationwide from any other similar business that might impede your success by using a similar phrase to sell their offerings. Let’s take a look at what kinds of phrases can be trademarked and how you can go about registering them.

People often get confused about what it means to trademark a phrase, especially once they learn how many common, everyday phrases are actually registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It’s important to remember that trademark registration doesn’t prevent any future use of a phrase–it strictly prevents its use, or the use of a similar phrase, in selling a product or service similar to yours.

So you’ve got your business up and running and have settled on a tagline: it’s the perfect combination of informative, clever, and brief. It features prominently on your website and in all your marketing messaging, and your customers are responding well. Right now, without filing any paperwork, you’ve already established that trademark, and the good news for you is that you’re protected locally from any attempts to infringe on your right to benefit from that phrase.

But after all that hard work, you want to be sure that no one, regardless of location, can come along and profit from your creation. You want to keep it exclusive to you, nationwide. Now, you need to file a trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

The Steps to Trademark Your Phrase

Your initial step is to conduct a search of registered marks to make sure that you actually are the first person to use this phrase for your type of business.  This is done by conducting a federal, state and common law trademark search. Once you’ve established that, you’ll submit an application to the USPTO, where the review process will begin.

Over a period of six to eight months, several steps will take place. An attorney reviews your application, carefully ensuring that it doesn’t infringe upon or conflict with any already-established trademarks. Once the distinction of your phrase is verified, it moves to the publication stage. This step acts as a nationwide notice of your trademark registration and gives any parties who may claim infringement the opportunity to object to your registration. 

Assuming your phrase successfully passes the publication stage, your examining attorney will conduct a final verification. After that, congratulations: you’ve got a registered trademark and all the benefits of protection against infringement that registration affords you.

From here, your job isn’t quite over yet. The burden of monitoring for infringement falls upon you, the trademark holder, so it’s up to you to stay aware of any unauthorized use of your registered phrase. After five years, you also have the responsibility of renewing your trademark registration.

A few things to keep in mind: ideally, your phrase will be considered “in use” at the time you file for trademark registration. That means that you’ve already publicly established it in connection with your business or organization. If not, there will be additional steps in the registration process once the phrase does enter what’s considered “in use” status. Also, remember that the litmus test for whether your trademark is being infringed upon is the risk of confusion between your product or service and another. As a result, not every usage of the phrase is covered–only those that could conceivably be mistaken for your business or endeavor, and could then subsequently detract from your purposes.

It’s important to start the process of registering a trademark for your phrase as soon as possible. The trademark registration process typically takes six-to-eight months, with months at a time of nothing but waiting for review and a possible objection. You’re in a much better position to defend against a claim of infringement once you obtain a trademark registration. By proactively safeguarding yourself, you can prevent even more lengthy legal entanglement and potential lost business down the line.

Josh Gerben, Esq.

Josh Gerben, Esq. is the founder and principal of Gerben IP. In 2008, Mr. Gerben started the firm to provide high-quality trademark services at reasonable prices. Today, he is recognized by the World Trademark Review as a top trademark filer, having registered over 7,500 trademarks. The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and may not be relied on as legal advice.

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