Your logo is a visual representation of your brand — when people see it, they'll automatically assume it's attached to your company. However, there's a risk of other businesses using your exact logo or creating a similar one that consumers easily confuse with yours. This can significantly affect the public's perception of your brand, whether accidental or intentional. Registering your logo as a trademark can legally protect your business's reputation and intellectual property.
What Is a Trademark?
The answer is the intellectual property your business uses to denote a product, brand, or service:
Word or phrase
Combination of any of the above
Courts won't recognize just any old IP as trademarked — it has to be unique enough that people instantly recognize its association with your brand. Therefore, you can't claim ownership of generic or commonly used phrases.
It's also important to note that trademarking can include registering with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, but that is optional. Instead, just using your logo in an official capacity qualifies as trademarking. Many owners of unregistered logos utilize the trademark symbol to indicate ownership, but this isn't a legal requirement.
The one downside to not registering is the limited legal protection. Unregistered symbols only have protection within your service area; technically, a wholly different and unaffiliated company on the other side of the country can use your exact logo without repercussion. If you plan to stay local, this may be fine, but if you want to expand nationally or internationally, you'll need USPTO protections.
What Does a Trademark Do?
Formally trademarking a logo at the national level provides several benefits:
Prevention of bootleg imports
Recognition of ownership globally
Public notification of ownership
Ability to sue for infringement in federal court
Exclusive usage rights
Technically, these protections can't stop others from using your logo. However, registration gives you strong standing in court should another company claim they own the design.
Importance of Trademarking for Your Brand
A logo, slogan, or symbol strongly associated with your brand builds consumer familiarity. Familiarity breeds trust, which in turn creates loyalty. Brand loyalty is essential for growing your company, as you can't expand your base if customers try your product once and then immediately pivot to a competitor.
Trademarking never expires as long as you continue to use the mark, allowing you to build an empire over generations. Many companies have done so by using a variation of the same logo for more than 100 years.
Consumers aren't the only ones who appreciate an established brand. Potential hires may seek out your company because they strongly identify with your brand or equate its recognizability with stability. By leveraging these associations, you can secure talent for your workforce.
Steps To Trademarking Your Logo
If owning your logo is enough for your purposes, the trademarking process is simple: Use it regularly in a lawful way, such as printing it on your product or packaging. Registering takes more time and money, as you'll need to complete this process:
Look through the USPTO's system to ensure there are no existing registrations for your business name and logo, including options that are incredibly similar.
Consult a lawyer or filing service to help you fill out the application.
Pay associated fees.
You can file your application online, making the process much easier than in years past. Once you submit your application, the USPTO will review the information to determine whether or not your mark qualifies for protection. On average, businesses receive a reply in nine months.
If the USPTO rejects your application, it will provide a reason. The following are the most common:
The mark is strictly ornamental.
The mark is only a surname.
The mark is solely descriptive.
The pronunciation, appearance, commercial impression, or meaning will likely be confused with an existing mark.
Things To Keep in Mind When Trademarking Your Brand's Logo
It's possible to lose protection if your mark enters the public lexicon as an adjective, noun, or verb. For example, many people use "Xerox" as a synonym for photocopying. While widespread knowledge of your brand is good, it can quickly become "generic" and no longer eligible for trademarking. Avoid using your mark this way in advertising and professional documents to combat this.
You can also deter the use of your mark by utilizing the registered symbol on official products. You can only use this symbol after the USPTO has approved your application. Until then, stick with TM.
Registering your mark sooner rather than later is better to avoid losing it to another business. If your brand doesn't appear when an applicant performs a trademark search in the USPTO's system, they may be able to file for names or logos you already use. Proving that you have the right to a mark can consume a lot of time and money, and you may lose anyway. Being proactive helps you avoid these issues and protect your brand.