Trademark rights in the United States arise from using the trademark in commerce. This means using the name, slogan or logo in a way that causes your customers and potential customers to connect your goods or services with you. The consuming public doesn’t need to know it’s you specifically—they don’t need to have met you or even know your name—but they just need to know that whoever stands behind the goods or products also stands for a certain quality. You know about TIDE laundry detergent, but you may not know that Proctor & Gamble makes it.
In a sense, a trademark is a short-hand for all manner of thoughts and feelings that go through consumers’ minds as they decide what to buy. It doesn’t have to mean that your product is the best, only that it is of a certain quality—perhaps of lower quality but of better price—or that it will likely have certain features. When you see TIDE on laundry detergent, you probably feel it’s a solid and reliable, if unexciting, product (and that suits Proctor & Gamble just fine).
You may have heard that you need to file something with a government agency to get a trademark. This isn’t really true. Trademarks arise from use in commerce. But what you can do is register your trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Obtaining a registration will significantly strengthen and expand your trademarks rights. The United States Patent and Trademark Office provides a good deal of useful information on the process. The process takes about 12 months, because the USPTO takes a while to get around to reviewing your application, and because when they do, they often find something in it that they’d like you to fix, so it usually takes a round or two before the office approves the application. After that it gets “published” for 30 days, like an auction would get published in the newspaper, so that other folks who think you shouldn’t get to own that registration have a chance to oppose it. But if there’s no opposition, and you’ve already shown the USPTO that the mark is in use in commerce, then it’s just another 3 month wait or so for the registration certificate, and you’re all done until renewal comes up in 5 years. And as an added bonus, your registration dates all the way back to the date you filed the application.
Aaron | Sanders PLLC can help navigate the path of creating, promoting, protecting and maintaining your trademarks. Contact us to learn what those next steps are.