Unexpected Capabilities. Unmatched Service.

Do You Need a Small Business Trademark?

Small business owners go through a lot of trouble to set their companies apart from their competitors. And once you build a respectable brand that threatens some of the other players in your field, protection becomes increasingly important. That’s why at some point, most successful business owners need to contend with acquiring a trademark.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” In other words, a trademark protects the most important identifiers of your brand.

But when is it appropriate for a small business to consider a trademark, and what do you need to know about applying for one?

Here’s the scoop on trademarks and how you can protect your business from copycats.

When Should You Trademark?

First off, small business owners should know that the second they start actually using a company name to sell a good or provide a service, you gain a small level of brand protection – without ever filling out a single piece of paper. That is, you’re granted “common law” rights to the name, which actually does prevent other companies from operating with the same brand name in the same geographic area.

However, those rights may cover an area as small as part of a state, not to mention it can be difficult to actually prove when common-law rights came into effect.

That’s why if you have any aspirations whatsoever of building your brand outside of a single town – which most business owners do – you’ll probably want to apply for federal trademark protection very early on in the formation of your business.

How to Apply for a Small Business Trademark

Applying itself is relatively straightforward.

First, check the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to make sure no other business already has acquired a trademark for a name or design that’s the same or very similar to what you plan to apply for.

After that, you can apply directly on the USPTO’s website – a process that should take between 1.5 and 2 hours. You’ll need to provide information such as when the “mark” was first used (if it hasn’t yet been used, you’ll need to file for an “intent-to-use” trademark), and what goods you sell or what services you provide.

The cost of applying for federal protection typically will run from between $275 and $375, and you’ll usually receive a response within six months of the filing date.

Things to Consider

The biggest responsibility you have before filing for a small business trademark is making sure you have a name and design that sets you apart from other competitors. That’s important for two reasons: 1.) You’ll be more likely to win approval, and 2.) You don’t want consumers to confuse your brand with others in the space. Thus, avoid generic names that blandly parrot what your business does.

Also remember that trademark protection isn’t just a one-and-done activity.

For one, you’ll have to renew your trademark within the year following your first nine-year anniversary, then every 10 years after that.

You’re also largely responsible for actually finding instances of companies violating your trademark. While the trademark itself provides legal protection, it doesn’t actually stop companies from trying to slip around the rules. If you don’t take action against them, your trademark doesn’t mean anything.

While we aren’t trademark experts, we can help protect your small business from financial issues and making it stand out from your competition. Call McManamon & Co. at 440.892.9088 or contact us online for more information.


Tags:  , , | Posted in Consulting, McManamon & Co., small business