Trademarks and service marks are often known as “brand names.” Having a unique and protected brand name ensures that your company and product are uniquely yours; that when the public purchases a product with that name, it will be reliably from the same company with the same standard of quality. This predictability is essential to growing a business’ goodwill and developing a loyal following.
The main reasons to register a mark are:
- To get a rebuttable presumption of ownership in that mark, and
- To be able to obtain statutory damages and attorney’s fees against infringing users of the mark.
You may file an application for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office either while using the mark on a product or service or in anticipation of using it on a product or service. Once you’ve filed the application, you have priority over any subsequent applicants as of the date of filing (assuming that the mark is eventually issued).
Registering your mark gives you security that you have the exclusive right to use your mark – you won’t have to worry about changing your product’s name after you’ve invested capital in production, packaging, advertising, etc. If another company comes forward claiming it owns the rights to the mark, you will have a much easier time defending your use (and prohibiting theirs). It also protects your product from knockoffs and brand dilution.
You can acquire trademark rights by using a mark in commerce on a product or in association with a service, without filing; in order to enforce your rights, however, you have to show that you were using the mark before any challengers. And, your rights to its exclusive use will be limited to your actual market and its “zone of natural expansion” if you had plans to expand before a dispute arose. Registering your mark is a more secure way of ensuring that you maintain the exclusive rights to your brand name.
Trade and service marks can also be licensed, as in the case of franchises, as long as the mark’s owner ensures that the users are maintaining the same quality standards as the originator. This can be a lucrative way to profit from your business’s goodwill without having to expand.
Federal trademark registrations are valid for ten years at a time, and can be renewed indefinitely, provided the mark is constantly used and protected. If you fail to use or protect a mark (for instance, by letting it become the standard nomenclature for the generic version of the product), you may not be allowed to renew it. Susan can help you take steps to register, protect and defend your mark against infringement or dilution.