Making Your Mark as a Solopreneur – Trademark Basics
As a business owner, you work hard to make a name for yourself and to find ways to set yourself apart from your competition. One of the more obvious ways to do that is to visually suggest that particular wording, symbols or designs – in and of themselves or in combination with each other – belong to you.
When you’re defining and differentiating your brand, a trademark (brand name) can help you create and maintain distinction. “Trademark” is often used to refer to both “trademarks” and “service marks” – which are similar, but slightly different.
Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish the provider of goods.
Service marks are used to identify and distinguish the provider of services.
When Can You Use Them?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “Any time you claim rights in a mark, you may use the “TM” (trademark) or “SM” (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO.”
So you’re allowed to slap the “TM” or “SM” to your name or logo without filing any documentation. Doing that lets others know that you’re claiming the particular verbiage or symbol or design, but legally you don’t really have much of a leg to stand on if someone else starts to use the same thing to represent their business offerings.
The official federal registration symbol is ®. Don’t ever put that on your name, logo or anything else unless you’ve taken the step to get your mark approved and registered by the USPTO. Even if you’ve got a registration application pending, you need to stick with the “TM” or “SM” designation until you’re official.
What’s the Big Deal About the ®?
In a nutshell, your brand name gets some legal protection and benefits from registering with the USPTO. To name a few from the agency’s website:
- Public notification that you’ve claimed ownership of the mark.
- Legal presumption of your ownership of the mark.
- Exclusive right to use the mark to represent the goods or services that you’ve listed in the registration.
- Ability to bring legal action in federal court if someone uses your mark without authorization.
How Do You Register a Mark?
If you do choose to file an application to register your trademark, it’s smart to do a search in the TESS (USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System) to make sure no one else has filed an application for the same mark.
And because registering a trademark is a legal proceeding, it would be wise to consult an attorney to guide you through the process.
Costs associated with registering vary depending on a few different factors:
The application form that you use
There’s a “regular” ($325) and a “plus” ($275) form. The plus version costs less because it comes with more strict requirements on what goods and services can be registered.
How many marks you’re registering
You may only request to register one mark per application.
The number of products and services classes your mark will be associated with
Say you want to sell hats and blankets under your service mark. You’d need to pay double the fee because those items fall under different classes.
Of course, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, so I suggest visiting the USPTO website where you can review their comprehensive list of FAQs and other information relative to trademarks and service marks.
And you might have noticed that “The Insatiable Solopreneur™” has had the “TM” behind it for some time. There’s a reason for that – but I’ll wait to share it a little later in the year. 😉
Have you officially registered any trademarks or service marks for your business? Please feel free to share your tips and advice on the topic here!