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6 Things Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know About Trademark Law

It’s important to be meticulous in protecting your business brand the moment you start your business. Vital brand elements such as your company tagline, logo, and name should all be protected to ensure that other companies cannot enter the market with your identity to sell their services or products.

A major step you can take is to ensure that you register your trademark. Trademark law will then protect your business brand identity and also ensure that others don’t operate their businesses with logos similar to yours.

Read on to find out things you should know about trademark law.

1. Should you file for federal registration trademark protection?

Every state has its trademark law and database for trademark registration. But, a state trademark registration is only able to protect the state where the services or goods are provided. If you own your business in Orlando, FL but want a trademark that protects you across the whole country, then you must use a federal registration.

Whether you should register your trademark at the federal or state level or even register it at all usually depends on the geographical area your business serves. If you limit your market to where your business location is, then state registration or no registration at all might work for you.

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When you operate in many states or sell your products and services nationwide, internationally, or on the internet, then you should opt for federal registration with the USPTO.

2. Enforce your trademarks

The USPTO does not enforce or monitor your trademarks, it only registers them. It’s your responsibility to enforce it since you could potentially lose your trademark if you don’t maintain or enforce it. Effective enforcement usually involves different things like:

  • Using the registered trademark symbol  ® on your trademarks. This notifies others about your trademark. You can use the ™ symbol if you have a pending trademark application.
  • Using a trademark monitoring service that can help you keep tabs on filing objections that might infringe on your trademarks and trademark filing.
  • Acting immediately when you believe other businesses are infringing on your trademarks. You can also speak with a lawyer for advice on sending a cease and desist letter and other actions that you may take.
  • Also, ensure you file maintenance documents on time. USPTO needs these maintenance documents every few years. So, ensure that you don’t allow your trademark to be declared abandoned.

3. Is it possible to protect your trademark if another business uses it first?

In the United States, trademark protection is usually based on the first use. This is why the date the first users can prove they used the mark is very critical. As it might be called upon and proves the mark’s ownership and the right to a trademark, geographical area, service and product type.

You can also register a specific trademark for use with something like sports apparel even after another person has used a similar or the same trademark for a completely different service or product like tax preparation services. If another person has already used a trademark, but the use is limited to a specific region or state, then you might be able to get trademark protection in a different area.

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4. Ensure you perform a trademark search before you name your business

A common scenario in business is when you select a business name, create a website, print promotional materials, labels, and songs then start making sales, only to receive a letter from a company lawyer that informs you that you have infringed on a different company’s trademarks. It is costly to rebrand and change your business name after all the work.

Additionally, most small businesses can’t afford to be in a trademark infringement lawsuit. So, if you want to avoid such a situation, then it would be best you conduct a trademark search before naming your business. This ensures that your chosen name does not infringe on another person’s trademark.

5. Difference between a trademark and a copyright

Both trademark and copyright are similar in the sense that they both provide a person with an exclusive right to use protected material in a situation. The difference is usually in the kind of materials they protect.

Trademark laws protect designs, logos, and phrases that identify a service or product. A business owner or person could lose their trademark protection if they don’t use it for a long time.

On the other hand, copyright protects creative works such as software codes, songs, poems, novels, drawings, photographs, and films. The work must have a digital or physical tangible form. Copyright does not protect ideas.

Copyright is unlike a trademark in that a copyright owner doesn’t have to use their copyrighted work to maintain protection. It isn’t necessary to, for instance, publish a novel to maintain copyright protection for the novel.

6. Creating a business is not a federal trademark registration

Many business owners think that when they create a business entity in their state, they automatically get a registered trademark on their business name. When you form a business entity, you get some state law trademark rights on your business name, but not all. 

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The state won’t let other businesses use the same name as yours. However, this business name protection does not extend beyond your state line, and the rights you have might be very difficult to enforce.

When you create a business, it doesn’t give you any trademark rights on your other trademarks, such as your logo or tagline. You must register your trademark with the USPTO to ensure that you get strong nationwide rights protection and enforcement.

Final Words

A major part of running your business is to protect your business’s most valuable assets.

For businesses, the most important and valuable assets usually include the brand logo, slogan, and name.

If a competitor starts using your brand logo or name, it might result in customers mistakenly thinking that there is a connection between your competitor’s business and yours.

Sometimes, they might even mistakenly buy from your competitor because they believe they are buying from you.

Trademark law can help you protect your business designs and words that you use to identify your business services and products.

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