A small business that forms an LLC is required to register its name with the secretary of state's office. This prevents other businesses within the same state from registering themselves with the same or a similar sounding name.But there is nothing to prevent another enterprise from registering itself with the same name as yours in a different state. While this may not matter to a small business operating in a restricted area, say a restaurant, it can have serious implications if you have plans to expand to other states or across the nation.
In such cases, it is advisable to protect your name on a federal level with a trademark.
What is a trademark?
Essentially a brand name, a trademark protects words, names, symbols, sounds or colors being used by one business to sell a product from being used by another.
Companies spend large amounts of money to build up their brands, logos or trademarks. It makes sound business sense that they should protect their investment by gaining the exclusive legal right to be the only entity to be allowed to use these.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the government authority that is vested with the power to register trademarks.
Your registration process should follow these steps:
Step 1. After you decide on the trademark for your company, you will need to determine whether anyone else is already claiming rights in wording/design similar to yours. You can do this by searching the USPTO database.
It is advisable to hire a private trademark attorney to guide you through the process. One of the main benefits of taking professional help is that it can prevent future legal problems.
Remember that all trademarks are not federally registered. The attorney will conduct a comprehensive search of federal registrations, state registrations and "common law" unregistered trademarks.
Step 2. You can file an online application using the Trademark Electronic Application System. The information you submit will become public record and will permanently remain searchable in USPTO online databases and internet search engines. It is your duty to check the status of your registration request, at least, every six months. You can do this online.
Step 3. After the USPTO is satisfied that your application is complete. It will issue an application serial number. An examining attorney will be appointed to review your application.
Step 4. Upon approval of your trademark by the examining attorney, the USPTO will arrange for its publication in the Official Gazette. At this stage, any party who wants to raise an objection has 30 days to do so.
Step 5. If your trademark is finally approved and registered, you are still required to monitor its status with the USPTO to keep your registration alive.
Keep tabs on your trademark
The USPTO only registers the trademark. As the owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that it is enforced. You can do this by initiating legal action against any party who you think is infringing on your trademark.
Even if your current scale of operations is small, it is still advisable to register your trademark if you have plans to expand in the future. The amount that you spend on engaging a trademark attorney and obtaining a registration could be well worth the expense.