As a small-business owner differentiating your company from that of your competition is important. Naturally, your business name, tagline, product names, logo, etc. play a very large part in that. Because they establish your business's identity, you don't want another business stealing the specific words and symbols used to represent your company.
According to SCORE mentor and retired IP Attorney Charles Gumpel, "If your company's brand image is stolen or closely duplicated, the result (both financially and otherwise) can be devastating to your business. For instance, customers might not be able to identify the 'real brand' from that of your impostors. This most likely will result in you never reclaiming those customers even if you find a way to stop the impostor. Other adverse effects can also occur that ultimately might lead to your business suffering financially or worse yet closing your business."
Thankfully, however, trademark rights provide you with some level of protection.
"Trademark" can refer to both "trademarks" and "service marks." They are similar but not exactly alike.
Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish the provider of goods, whereas service marks identify and distinguish the provider of services.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, "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."
Using TM or SM informs others you're claiming the wording or symbol or design. Realize, however, that you may have difficulty bringing legal action against another party if they use something that's the same or very similar to represent their company's offerings. For additional protection and benefits, you can register with the USPTO to officially claim your mark. If and when you obtain approval from the USPTO you can use the official federal registration symbol, "®". The USPTO clearly states that you may not use this symbol until after the USPTO actually approves and registers the mark -- not while your application is pending.
"If you elect not to register your mark with the USPTO, you will forfeit a number of important benefits," explains Gumpel. "Among the benefits you gain by registering your mark is: greater confidence that your selected mark is protectable; nationwide notice of ownership to help prevent others from claiming the same or confusingly similar mark; accessibility to federal courts to stop impostors and possibly obtain treble damages and attorney fees; the possibility of effectively blocking counterfeit imports; and other similar benefits."
How You Can Register For a Trademark or Service Mark:
Before filing an application to register your mark, you might save yourself time and money by doing an initial search in the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System to verify no one else has applied for the same mark.
To learn more the USPTO website is www.uspto.gov/trademark.
Please note that all viewpoints shared in this article are for informational purposes only, and they are not intended as legal advice. Please consider consulting an attorney specializing in trademark law to discuss the specifics of your business and to guide you through this process.\
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