What’s in a name? When it comes to a small business, that question has even more layers to it. Brand recognition has a special pull with your client base and helps you stand out in a crowd, so your business name needs to be thought-out and intentional. Once you have it, though, how do you claim your own business name for yourself?
If you’ve come this far, you’re probably ready to trademark your business name or tagline, but maybe you’re hesitant as to what steps to take. Well, hesitate no more!! We have you covered with our exact step-by-step process to help you register a trademark.
Step 1: Make sure it’s worth trademarking.
What makes a good trademark name? While your actual industry will dictate what resonates with your audience (warm and welcoming, cutting edge and innovative, prestigious and sophisticated, etc.), some common applies to all good trademark names: they are distinct, unique, and easily recognizable.
Sometimes something completely unrelated to your industry — like “Apple” generally has no other equivalent in the realm of computers — can be just strange enough to work. If you can keep it simple and catchy at the same time, even better.
Take our name, for example. The Contract Shop® is not exactly the sexiest name, but it tells people exactly what we do — sell contracts. Boom.
Step 2: Make sure your name is available to register and use.
Once you have brainstormed your perfect name, make sure to go the extra step and make sure it is legally available to register and use. Even the most unique, perfectly crafted names sometimes are not as distinct as you may think. This is why, after you decide the name is worth pursuing, you need to do some background research and see what’s out there.
Google searches are still the easiest way to check. You can search for your desired trademark name and see if anything comes up (both in and out of quotations, i.e. “trademark” and trademark, to search for exact matches and similar matches alike).
This helps you see if there are any similar names already out there, some of which may come from unfortunate sources. You may find your desired name is one letter off from the brand name of an incontinence medication, so unless that’s what you’re aiming for, maybe don’t go that direction.
If nothing comes up, make sure to do your due diligence before deciding you are in the clear. The U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a great search tool to look through all trademarks currently registered through the agency. The Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) is free to use, so make the most of this resource.
The goal is to not only check that your desired name isn’t already taken, but also to get some inspiration from other trademarks in similar classes to your industry. You also want to search to see what kind of domain name registrations already exist that incorporate the trademark you are trying to create. Domain name registrars like ICANN.org (a nonprofit that manages URL registrations) can assist with this.
Don’t just look at already-registered trademarks, either. There may be some in the works already that are similar to your ideas. These can prevent you from registering your desired mark in your own name or using it in a legal sense, so a little prep work can save you a lot of frustration down the road.
If you see similar trademark names, don’t get discouraged. You can use these same tools to see what similar trademark names are in your industry for inspiration. Maybe try something along the same lines, or deviate from the crowd and go in a completely different direction. This can help you stand out and get noticed.
Step 3: File your application.
Now here’s the less-exciting step (unless you’re really weird): the paperwork. Still, you knew it was coming. You can file your trademark application online via USPTO.gov. Two options available in the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS): TEAS Standard and TEAS Plus.
Under initial application forms, you will apply for your trademark on the Principal or Supplemental Register. You can also apply for other marks at this stage (such as certification, collective, and collective memberships, if applicable).
You will also identify the goods and services involved at this step. Depending on which application option you choose, you will either select your goods/service listing from the already-existing Trademark Identification manual (via TEAS Plus), or you can write the description of your goods and services yourself (via TEAS Standard).
Sometimes, other statements may be required alongside your application. If your mark...
- Includes color
- Includes non-English words
- Include the names and/or image of a living person
- Includes a stylized design or font
- Includes non-Latin characters
- Or is already in use beyond your specific geographical location, and you want to use it concurrently
...then you will need to provide additional backing paperwork. Under TEAS Plus, you include these statements in your initial application, but TEAS Standard has you provide them later (leading to longer wait time and potential additional fees).
What if my business isn’t fully set up yet?
If your small business is already up and running, then you will want to submit your trademark application as soon as possible. However, having a trademark legally implies that you are using the name for commerce — that is, you are already in business. But what if you’re still catching up to that point?
The USPTO site also has a section called “Intent To Use,” or ITU. These are the application forms you will use if you plan to use your trademark for a business that is still getting up and running. If approved, you will need to start using your trademarked name within 6 months.
Step 4: Submit the fee
Probably everyone’s least favorite part: the fees. Creating a trademark name for your business will be a business investment. The actual amount of this investment will largely depend on whether you opt for TEAS Standard or TEAS Plus.
The Standard option has few requirements up-front, but you eventually need to meet the additional application requirements later in the process, and you also pay a higher fee per class of goods and services ($350/class). You start with one application filing fee and pay the rest as you go.
The Plus option requires that you address all of the requirements up front (which may result in a higher overall cost), but the fee per class of goods and services is lower ($250). You pay all application fees at once when submitting your application.
Step 5: Wait for processing.
And now: we wait. We know, thrilling stuff. But this is an important step, or in other words, an important step to prepare for. It can take quite a bit of time for your new application to be renewed and approved.
You should generally see your initial application appear in the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system in about a week, although if you file without an International Class, applications can take up to 80 days.
Your application will then go through a review process and possible edits or modifications. This is why the accuracy of your first application is essential: any mistakes lead to delays on an already time-consuming process. For real-time processing updates, look at the USPTO’s wait times.
Make your mark
Registering a trademark is an involved undertaking: the entire process normally takes around six months. However, it all pays off when you get to claim a unique name that elevates your brand and bolsters your business.
Ready to take it to the next level? Trademarks on Tap, our signature program, can help you complete the entire trademark process with less stress.