Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Trademark: 5 minutes to deciding whether Trademarking is for you

My pretty trademark that most likely cost me $2000
If you are a mom (or a dad, parent, what have you) that owns your own business, the thought of trademarking your name will have crossed your mind. You might have seen another competing business using a name similar to yours. Or, you have direct competition that you feel you can dust if only you own the name of your company. Whether your motivation be suing the pants off of a rival that is irritating you or protecting a business name you have rightfully grown, you want a Trademark and you want one now.  Yet I continue to be amazed at the lack of knowledge out there for Trademarking. Judging by the types of questions I am asked, it is clear that many people don't know the differences between a Trademark, Copyright, and Patents.

A trade-mark is a word (or words), a design, or a combination of these, used to identify the goods or services of one person or organization.

I'd call this tutorial "Trademarking for Dummies," but the words "For Dummies" is trademarked and I don't want to be sued. (Also see my future article "How to survive being counter-sued", because that happened to me too)

Trademarking is one of the single most misunderstood parts of owning a business. I will never forget receiving an email from a friend who said:

"Hey, can you trademark my name, thanks".
Um, ok. I'm going to need some clarification here.  I emailed back, asking exactly what she meant.

She replied, "You know, copyright it. Let me know when its done. Ok, thanks."

Now for someone who has no idea what obtaining a trademark entails, this may seem like a fairly simple exchange.  But I've been through the ringer of trademarking so to speak, and there are three things you should know right off the bat.

Its expensive: The application to trademark you business name or logo will cost you a minimum of $250 if you submit online. If you submit through another way, such a trademark lawyer or one of the online services, you are looking at anywhere from $300 to $1500 to apply. Once you have been approved, it will cost you another $250 minimum to register it formally. If it does not become approved for whatever reason (someone opposes it, it is too close in name to another registered trademark), you are out your original $250. There is no refund window at the Trademark office.

Its time consuming - Just filling out the application is time consuming. Once you fill out the application, you can expect to wait up to a year for the trademark to be published in the Trademark Journal. If no one opposes your use of the trademark after it is advertised, you will be asked to submit the final registration form. For me, it took three years from start to finish. Some businesses don't even operate for three years, so you should be sure of what your future plans are before filing.

You need to be on the ball to cover everything - You have to be sure you cover all of the contingencies. For example, are you going to be using the name for just your business or a possible line of products? You better have all of the clothes, soaps, baby things, to which you plan on using it covered, or you could be in trouble down the road. For an idea as to what I put on my application, look at the pretty and ultra expensive registered trademark I own: Kidswap

Just like George Costanza, you will succeed if you do the opposite of what I did: Trademark law firms are plentiful online and off. After some research you may feel tempted to just hand over the reins of your application to a firm. I would advise against this, unless you have a lot of money to burn and/or you have a really complicated application. I was royally taken by a Trademark firm which shall remain nameless. This was way back in the day when I didn't realize that every single time a lawyer picks up the phone, it costs you a lot of money. I had called a trademark lawyer for advice at one point. They helped me with my application, and that was all I required. One of the lawyers from the firm took it upon themselves to call me three months later to 'check in'. I thought it was a just a nice chat, until I received a bill in the mail for $800. Avoid trademark firms and save yourself a lot of cash by researching it yourself. 

If you are in the market for a Trademark, I recommend doing some research on Google. You will find many links to companies that will process your trademark for $399, (you know now that the do-it-yourself fee is $250) but you still do all of the work on the application. Steer clear and keep your money in the bank.

If you have more questions, I'm happy to help.

No comments:

Post a Comment