Trademark FAQ

What is a trademark?

A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes a source of goods or services of one party from those of others.

How to choose a trademark?

It is in your best interest to select a mark that is considered “strong” in a legal or trademark sense, i.e., a mark that will most easily allow you to prevent third-party use of your mark. Some marks are easier to protect than others and these are considered “strong” marks. For example, a made up word, like Xerox®, or a word that wouldn’t intuitively be applied to particular goods or services, such as Apple® for computers are strong.

On the other hand, if a mark is “weak,” it most likely is descriptive and others are already using it to describe their goods or services, making it difficult and costly to try to police and protect.

For any chosen trademark, a trademark search should be conducted prior to use to determine if anyone is already using an identical or similar trademark. Our office can help in that process.

Do I need a federal registration of the trademark?

Not Necessarily. In the United States, you are not required to register marks to obtain protectable rights. You can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without the need for registration. However, owning a federal trademark registration provides a number of advantages over common law rights alone.

Additionally, common law rights are usually confined to a particular geographic area.

Further, each state has their own registration system to protect a trademark within a particular state.

How can I get a federal registration?

Among various requirements, a federal registration requires use of a trademark in interstate commerce. That means that the good or services must be purchased by a user in a state outside Washington or in another country.

Is registration of my mark guaranteed?

No. The United States Patent and Trademark Office will review the application and may issue various refusals, some of which can be overcome.

When can I use the trademark symbols TM and ®?

Each time you use your mark, it is best to use a designation with it. If federally registered, use an ® after the mark. If not yet federally registered, use TM to indicate that you have adopted this as a trademark, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO.

How much does it cost to apply for a federal trademark application?

The filing fees for an application change over time, but currently fees begin at around $300 and can increase based on complexity of the application.

How long will it take for my mark to register?

The total time for an application to be processed may be anywhere from 6 months to several years, depending on the basis for filing and the legal issues that may arise in the examination of the application.

What are my obligations to maintain a trademark?

Whether a common law, state registered, or federally registered trademark, there is an ongoing obligation to police and enforce the trademark against those that are using it in a confusingly similar way. We rely on the associated researchers to help identity these uses and help tell other people to stop using the trademark. Failure to do so can result in abandonment of the trademark.