What is a Logo?
A logo is images, text, or a combination of both that distinguishes a specific company or a unique product made by a company.
How Do I Best Protect My Logo?
A trademark is usually the best way to protect a logo. The purpose of a trademark is to protect what identifies your business or product to the consumer public, including the name of the company or product, or any images, symbols, sounds or phrases that distinguish your company or product.
As a logo is a unique design that distinguishes your company and/or its services/products, a logo falls under a trademark.
The purpose of a trademark is to protect the consumer from being deceived by the company, product or service he or she is dealing with. Thus, under trademark law, a trademark must be something specific that helps consumers distinguish it from other companies, products or services. So your logo cannot be too generic.
Once your company begins using a unique logo, you have the right to use that logo. Yet, registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will better protect you from other competitors using your logo on their products and to conduct their business.
Logos Vs. Names
Obtaining a registered trademark for a logo as opposed to a trademark for a name is similar; however, there are some critical differences to understand.
- Logos do not need as much evidence in the use of commerce as the use of names do.
- Logos take less work in general to trademark than a name.
- If you make even a slight design change to your logo, you will probably have to re-register it.
Common Mistakes in Trademarking a Logo
Some of the common mistakes in attempting to trademark a logo are as follows:
- Failing to conduct a proper search before submitting the application with the USPTO.
- Not having a distinctive logo that qualifies for registration.
- Failing to comply with the technical requirements in submitting a logo design.
- Not monitoring the status of your application.
The Step-by-Step Trademark Process
- The first step, of course, is to either create your logo or to otherwise have an idea of the logo you would like to create. Again, be sure your logo is easily distinguishable and not so generic that it will be rejected for trademark registration.
- Next, you need to search the trademark registry on the USPTO database to be sure that your logo, or one that is too similar, has not been already registered.
- Once you have confirmed your logo is unique and distinguishable, you may now prepare and submit your trademark application with the USPTO.
- As a final step in your trademark application process, you need to submit the appropriate registration fee. There is not a fixed fee. (See the cost of trademark blog for more discussion on this.)
- Monitor your application after submitting it. It takes several months for the USPTO to review your application. The USPTO has a Trademark Status and Document Retrieval website that you may visit during this time to see where it is at in the process.
- You will receive your registered trademark when your application is approved. At this time, you may begin to use the registered trademark symbol every time you use your logo. This helps to ensure it is protected.
- Even once you receive your trademark registration for your logo, you must maintain it. You will have to file more maintenance-related documents with the USPTO office as time goes on.
The trademark process is complicated. Every part of the process is easier to navigate with a trademark lawyer’s assistance. He or she can ensure you are making decisions with all the necessary legal considerations which in the long run will best protect your logo.
How You Can Protect Your Logo While You’re Waiting
You are probably familiar with the symbols Ⓡ, TM (™) or SM. We are conditioned as consumers to recognize these symbols as protecting intellectual property that is not to be copied.
The symbol Ⓡ is the registered trademark symbol. This means that you have applied for a trademark through the USPTO and they have accepted your application.
If you use the Ⓡ symbol next to your logo before fully registering the mark, the USPTO can (and probably will) decide to not approve your registration, because you have already violated the laws governing trademarks (See the Lanham Act blog for a discussion of trademark law). If this happens, you have jeopardized your logo. Further, your ability to protect your logo will be weakened, if not eliminated altogether. It’s not worth using the Ⓡ symbol until your logo is probably registered with the USPTO.
However, while you are awaiting your official trademark registration, you may use the TM or SM symbols next to your logo. These are still well-known symbols that indicate that you have a trademark. People should be less likely to knowingly use your logo if they see those symbols after your logo. It also usually signals that you are serious about protecting your logo and you have probably started the registration process with the USPTO.
Once your logo trademark is registered, protect it by including the Ⓡ symbol.
Understanding the Best Way to Protect Your Logo
In deciding whether to use a trademark for your logo or whether to also obtain logo copyright, it will help to have a better understanding of what a trademark is, what a trademark protects and how it protects it. Then the same goes for understanding copyright.
You will also want to take your particular logo into consideration, including the nature of your logo, how you intend to use it, and how you intend to protect it. Finally, you can consider the different processes of obtaining a trademark and obtaining copyright. The time, resources, and costs of each may be significant factors.
Consulting with or hiring an intellectual property attorney well versed in trademark, copyright and company logos is also a helpful asset in properly assessing what is the best way to protect your logo.
Deciding when it makes sense to obtain a copyright logo can be a complex decision. Consult an attorney who is familiar with this particular area of law and your company, your market, and your consumer.