Many business owners contemplate whether they should trademark their logo. If you’ve been in business for a few years, or are in the planning stages of launching a new company, deciding to trademark your logo is an important consideration. You may have many questions on this topic, and to help you determine what’s best for your own company, let’s review the pros and cons of trademarking your business logo.
What is a Trademark?
Technically speaking, a trademark is a mark of trade. In order words, it’s word, slogan, image, logo, or any combination of those, used to legally connect products or services with the maker of those offerings. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll focus specifically on a logo trademark.
Think about McDonald’s double arches, Chanel’s overlapping C’s, and NBC’s peacock. These are examples of iconic logos which are highly recognizable and evoke certain feelings from customers. Seeing the McDonald’s logo may make you crave their salty fries; Chanel’s logo may make you dream of owning a luxury handbag; NBC’s logo may bring back memories of your favorite TV shows as a kid.
Logos give companies instant recognition, individuality, and marketing power. As a business owner, you’ve (hopefully) put a lot of time, effort, and money in creating the logo that best represents your brand. You have a lot invested in your company’s logo, and a trademark would provide protection.
How does a trademark protect your logo?
A logo trademark protects your business’s brand identity in the marketplace. Let’s say you own a clothing brand and your logo design is 3 intertwined hearts. If another clothing brand comes out with a logo that has 2 intertwined hearts, people could easily confuse their clothing with yours. Therefore, you’d lose money on sales, and your brand would suffer if their clothing were inferior in quality to yours.
If your logo is trademarked, it would be considered infringed upon when another company’s logo is similar enough to confuse consumers, and infringing companies would be required by law to stop using the similar trademark.
What happens if you don’t trademark your logo?
If you do not register your logo with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), you can still use it. This is because just using your logo in advertising creates a “common law” trademark. Common law trademarks can use the following symbols:
- “TM” (trademark) if your business sells products and goods
- “SM” (service mark) if your business offers services
These symbols can be placed next to your logo and are meant to inform other businesses that you are the owner of your logo. It is optional whether you choose to use these symbols based on space constraints. If your logo becomes a registered trademark, then you can use the circled R symbol (®) next to your logo.
It’s important to note that common law trademarks only offer limited protection. To protect your logo on the national level, it may be in your best interest to register for a federal trademark. In the case of a lawsuit, your registered trademark would provide documentation of when you started using your mark.
What are the benefits of trademarking your logo?
Below are a few of the benefits and protections you’ll have if you decide to register your logo for a trademark.
- You’ll be granted official ownership of your logo’s trademark on a national level. If you have an online business or have plans to expand your company to other regions, this would be a valuable benefit.
- Speaking of expansion plans, having your logo trademarked in the U.S. also qualifies you to obtain trademarks in other countries.
- If another business copies your logo, or it is similar, and you are both offering related products or services, it would allow you to bring an infringement lawsuit in federal court.
What are the reasons to not register a trademark?
Depending on the current status of your business, and the future plans you have for your company, trademarking your logo may not be a priority. If any of the below circumstances apply to your business, then you may want to reconsider registering for a trademark.
- You’re not 100% set on your logo. Businesses change logos over time for different reasons. As your business progresses and you begin to offer more services or products, you may want a new logo design that represents your new offerings. Or, maybe you have a logo you like, but don’t love and may decide to change it some point. Only the exact version of the logo that is registered is legally protected. If you don’t plan on continuing to use your logo for the lifespan of your business, then you might not want to register it.
- Your logo is similar to one that already exists. It’s typical that many businesses gain inspiration from other companies. Maybe you designed your logo based on another logo you liked, and even though it’s different, there may still be some similarities and those comparisons may prevent your logo from being registered. As long as you stick to your geographic area, then common law would likely provide adequate protection.
- You’re unsure how long you’ll be in business. If you are in the launching stage of your business and you’re not sure how long it will last, you may want to hold off on trademarking your logo. Applying for logo trademark registration takes on average about 10 months from filing to approval. The minimum application fee is about $325 if you prepare and submit the most basic application yourself. If you use a lawyer to do a trademark search first and/or file the application for you, adding on legal fees will make the trademark process an even more costly expense.
What is the process for trademarking your logo?
The first step is to conduct a trademark search to make sure that your logo is unique because if there are similar logos, your application will be denied and your filing fee will not be reimbursed. You can do your own search on USPTO’s online database, or you can hire an attorney or legal services company like LegalZoom, who can do a more comprehensive search on your behalf, as well as file your trademark application.
Once it’s established that your logo is eligible, you can fill out and file your trademark application. Within about 10 months, the USPTO will review and if appropriate, approve and issue your trademark application for federal registration. The good news is that your logo is protected starting on the date you file the application, not the date the USPTO officially issues your trademark.
If you are interested in trademarking your logo, company name, and domain name, each one must be trademarked on its own. Even if your business name is part of your logo, the two would still have to be registered separately.