How to Trademark a Logo - The Complete Step-By-Step Guide

September 1, 2021
Authored by:
Zak Muscovitch
Featuring:

Understanding how to trademark a logo is one of the most important ways to establish your company’s identity. If you have a logo sticking around for a long time, it is best to get it trademarked right away to protect your intellectual property. It’s fundamental to acquaint yourself with the process to do it correctly and avoid risky situations.

Trademarking a logo can be done by either hiring an attorney to conduct it for you or working with a specialized service for a more straightforward process. 

Disclaimer: regardless of your choice on how to trademark a logo, be prepared for the trademarking duration to take at least six months to finish. 

By the time, it doesn’t hurt to fully understand the basics and structure of trademarking so you can be ready for whatever is thrown at you.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark protects intellectual property from theft or infringement. A trademark can be utilized for a name, title, logo, or symbol representing a business. Because so much time and money is invested into developing your company's logo, it is crucial to secure it.

A company logo is a visual representation of your brand. The logo is how consumers recognize your business, so trademarking it is vital in protecting its reputation as something that is yours and yours alone. If an entity were to copy your logo for another brand, that would be cause for confusion and a significant credibility hit.

A trademark is often used as another word for a “brand”. For example, “NIKE” and “COCA-COLA” are obviously brands, but they are also trademarks. They are also trademarks because the owner of the brand has “trademarked” its brand to get legal protection. The legal protection usually means that nobody but the trademark owner can use the trademark for the same kinds of goods and services, and sometimes no one can use it for anything at all, as we will explain more below.

Often people confuse a “trademark” and a “copyright”. Generally, a trademark protects a brand name, whereas copyright protects original content, like a book, movie, or photograph.

A trademark for your logo is not a requirement (though it is highly recommended), nor is it necessary in some cases. For small, regional companies, a trademarked logo is unnecessary, but even then, there are massive benefits.

Essentially, you lose nothing when you decide to trademark a logo, even in situations that don’t always call for it. Because if infringement were to happen, something you can never predict or prepare for, you lose much more.

Definition Of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is any type of original creation, whether it is intellectual, artistic, or tangible. Almost anything you create is a piece of intellectual property: a song, a painting, an invention, a process, a novel, a movie, a recipe, a code— a logo.

Once you create something, it’s officially your intellectual property. You have near-total control over it, meaning you decide what to do with it, who you license it to, what the circumstances of the license are, and how much the license costs. 

When somebody uses your intellectual property without consent, that is known as infringement. However, there are a few circumstances when another party may use your intellectual property without permission. In the United States, these exceptions are covered in the Fair Use Doctrine.

Outside these circumstances, infringement is illegal. As the intellectual property owner, you have every right to take legal action against anybody infringing on your creations.

Word Marks and Design Marks

Trademarks usually come in two primary forms, “word marks” and “design marks”. A “word mark” is a trademark that consists of a word or words, like “NIKE” or “COCA-COLA”. A design mark usually consists of a graphical element alone or in combination with words, and is often referred to as a “logo”. So for example, Nike’s “swoosh” logo, with a graphical element alone, is trademarked:

As is Coca-Cola’s logo, with a combination of a graphical element and words:

What Does A Trademark Do?

A trademark gives the trademark owner a kind of monopoly over a particular brand. For example, since Nike, Inc. has a trademark for its brand, “Nike” and for its “Swoosh” logo for athletic shoes (for example), nobody else is permitted to use that brand for athletic shoes or something similar. In fact, Nike is such a famous brand, it is unlikely that anyone would be able to get a trademark for “Nike” even in connection with something totally different, such as a brand of fertiliser. Nevertheless, sometimes there is room for two trademarks, each owned by different companies, to co-exist alongside each other for different goods and services. So for example, there can be a Delta airline and a Delta faucet company, each owned by different companies and not confusing the public.

Once trademark rights are acquired you can prevent someone else from using the same or confusingly similar trademark for the same or similar goods and services. So for example, if someone decided to adopt Nike as a brand for flip flops, Nike would have the right to sue them for “trademark infringement” and prevent them from continuing to use an infringing brand name. Accordingly, having a trademark enables a brand owner to prevent others from copying its brand name and from confusing the public about the source of the particular goods and services. Nike has invested a lot of money in their brand name through advertising and marketing, and they should have the right to prevent someone from unfairly capitalising on their brand by selling something under the famous Nike name.

Not only do trademarks prevent someone from adopting an identical match, but can also sometimes prevent someone from adopting a confusingly similar trademark. For example, Starbucks took Sadarbuksh in India to court over an allegedly similar logo:

Registered Trademarks and Common Law Trademarks

Trademark rights can come is two primary legal forms; registered trademark rights and common law trademark rights. A registered trademark refers to the trademark owner having its trademark recorded in a governmental database of registered trademarks. Once registered, the registration certificate is proof of having trademark rights.

Common law trademark rights arise when the brand owner has not registered its trademark, but has used the mark to such an extent that for all intents and purposes, it has acquired more or less equivalent rights and is able to prevent others from passing themselves off as the brand owner.

Registered trademark rights are regarded as generally superior to common law trademark rights, because common law trademark rights owners have to prove they have acquired common law trademark rights, whereas registered trademark owners can rely upon the registration itself as proof of their rights, making it much easier to enforce trademark rights and to prevent infringement.

Some Things Can’t Be Trademarked

There is a whole body of law about what can and can’t be trademarked, but one of the most common misconceptions is that you can trademark a generic or descriptive term. For example, you can’t trademark APPLE for a brand of apples (the fruit), because that would be unfair since it would effectively remove a common generic word from usage by the public. However, you can of course trademark APPLE for computers, because APPLE is not the generic or descriptive term for computers. Accordingly, care must be taken to avoid adopting a generic or clearly descriptive term as your brand, as you may not be able to get it trademarked.

How To Trademark Your Logo

Once you have created a unique logo, you can consider trademarking it. The following are some of the steps that are commonly taken in trademarking a logo.

Where?

You need to consider not just how to trade mark a logo, but also where do you want to trademark your logo. One of the first decisions to make, is where you want to trademark your logo. There is no way of trademarking a logo for the entire world, all in a single step. You have to trademark in particular countries, such as the United States or Canada. You can also file across the European Union, or after filing a trademark in a single country, apply for a WIPO trademark which can sometimes make it easier to trademark in numerous additional countries.

So, generally you would determine where you plan on doing business, and start there. Having a trademark in one country will not generally assist you in preventing infringement in another country where you do not have trademark rights.

Trademark Search

Once you identify where you want to trademark, for example, for the United States, you can search the USPTO database. What you would be generally be searching for, is to see if anyone else has a logo that contains similar words or a similar graphical element that could be considered confusing. in Canada, you can conduct a search of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s database of registered trademarks. Many countries have searchable databases that are accessible online for free. There is also the WIPO Global Brands Database that searches across many different countries all at once. A trademark might be confusing, for example, if the brand name was the same or similar and also related to similar goods or services, or if for example, the graphical elements were the same or similar and related to similar goods or services.

Trademark searching is something of a skill as it takes training and experience to conduct a good trademark search. That is why it is often advisable to seek the assistance of a qualified trademark lawyer who can help with conducting such a search.

The Application And Registration

Once you have completed your search, you may be ready to apply for a trademark in your desired jurisdiction or jurisdictions.

Applying for a trademark in many jurisdictions, involves filling our online forms and paying certain fees. The kind of information that you will be required to enter usually includes things like the identity of the applicant, a description of the trademark, and a description of the goods and services.

Although these forms may appear simple to fill out, having the guidance of an expert trademark lawyer is often advisable, as it often takes experience and training to know how to properly describe your goods and services and to be on the lookout for other legal issues that commonly arise during the process.

Most trademark registries will review or “examine” the application, conduct searches for confusingly similar marks, and then will either approve your application, request changes to it, or raise objections for a variety of reasons.

These are often referred to as “office actions”. Responding to office actions may be as simple as changing a word here or there in your description of goods and services, or may be complex and require legal research and arguments.

The timeline for the process can often take months or years depending on the jurisdiction, and there is often an opportunity for third parties to oppose your application, for example because they believe your trademark is too close to theirs or they started using theirs first.

Once approved however, you will usually receive a trademark registration certificate, and that means that you can usually start identifying your trademark with an ® instead of a ™, which usually means that you are asserting trademark rights but have not yet registered the mark and therefore cannot use an ®.

Written By Zak Muscovitch of Muscovitch Law P.C. You can read more about Zak and his services for Canadian and United States trademark at http://www.trademarks-canada.com/ and you can contact Muscovitch Law for fast and reasonably priced trademark services, including Canada, the United States, and worldwide.

Importance Of Trademarking A Logo

There are various benefits to registering your logo for a trademark. It is not required, but there is much to gain. Below are the benefits:

Priority 

Trademarking your logo gives you the utmost priority in its usage. If the logo isn't trademarked, you are only entitled to use it within your geographical area. This means that someone anywhere in the world or even in the next town can use a similar or the same logo as yours. 

Without trademark registration, it is unlikely there is anything you can do to stop it, even if you created or used the logo first. If your logo is registered with a trademark, you can stop someone else from taking it by law. 

Lawsuit 

When trademarking your logo, you have the right to sue anybody who uses the logo without your consent or authorization. In some cases, simply having the logo trademarked is enough to win the court case. You can also bring criminal charges against anyone for the improper use of your trademarked logo.

Money 

If you have to take someone to court for logo trademark infringement, having the trademark allows you to collect money for the damages.

Import of Foreign Goods 

A registered logo trademark lets you stop or halt the import of foreign goods with a similar logo that may infringe upon your trademark. 

Foreign Registration 

Once your logo is trademarked in the United States, you can also trademark it in other countries. This allows you to extend your business to foreign markets.

Trademark Versus Copyright

Trademarks and copyrights are often regarded to be the same, but they are not.

Copyright involves creative projects such as films, literature, audio, or computer programming. Copyright materials must be fixed in a tangible medium. Essentially, other people should be able to see it. Ideas or intangible properties cannot be copyrighted. 

Creations that do not explicitly exist for commercial purposes fall under the copyright bracket.

A trademark involves words, symbols, phrases, or a combination of all those things. A trademark protects branding elements that represent a company, such as icons you can see on business signs, documents, and miscellaneous materials. 

Creations that exist explicitly for commercial purposes, such as logos, brand names, and slogans, fall under the trademark bracket.

A logo can be eligible for both a trademark and copyright. Some logos contain original designs or artwork, therefore, they are suitable for copyright. However, a trademark protects the logo as a whole.

Copyrights function similarly to a trademark. The main difference between the two is the particular type of intellectual property that needs protection.

Steps On Trademarking A Logo

Four simple steps on how to trademark a logo.

Step 1: Make Sure Your Logo Is Available

Before any step in the process, you must ensure that the logo you have created is available for trademark.

To be registered, your logo must look unique. Avoid generic or common visuals, or else they may have a similar likeness to other logos.

Start the search process by looking through the logo trademark database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Attorney's Office (USPTO). Check for similar logos that other companies have already registered.

Step 2: Get Ownership Of Your Logo

There are several ways to obtain legal rights of your company logo, but they vary in investment. The easiest and least expensive option in getting rights is to simply start using your logo. However, this is extremely risky because it does not stop other people in another region from taking it.

You may register a trademark for your logo with the Secretary of State in the state where your company is based. This protects your rights within that state, so the logo cannot be copied by brands in other states.

The most expensive option is to file a trademark application with the USPTO. For this process, you would need an attorney or specialized service to guide you with the application because the logo must be accurately described in terms understood by the USPTO. 

It takes quite a few months for a trademark application to be processed after submission.

Step 3: Secure The Trademark

If your trademark is officially registered with the USPTO, you own the right to use it anywhere in the United States and sue in case of infringement. 

The logo trademark allows you the right to stop foreign goods that have your logo from being imported into the country. 

This benefit is highly significant for companies and industries that struggle with counterfeit items that copy the original brand logo. For example, fashion brands or technology companies would get to hinder knock-off versions of their products.

Once your logo is successfully registered with the USPTO, you can then register it in other countries to uphold company trademark rights there.

Step 4: Monitor Your Trademarked Logo

If you think your work is done after a successful trademark registration, think again. 

Your company must maintain a trademark watch to protect your logo and ensure no one else uses it. There are specialized attorneys that manage this type of ongoing and intensive work. 

Their job entails constantly monitoring that no one is using your logo or attempting to trademark a similar logo to yours. If someone infringes, the attorney sends a cease and desist letter.

Circumstances Where You Should Not Trademark A Logo

When you first create a logo, the next thing you do is trademark it, right? Well, not necessarily.

The logo trademarking process costs money and takes time, and there are some circumstances where it is not advisable to trademark your logo. At least not right away. These circumstances are the following:

The Plans Are Not Set In Stone

Let’s say you have not committed to your logo yet, and you know you will likely be altering it within a short time. If this is the case, do not trademark the logo. Trademark a logo that you know is going to stick around for a long time. 

A quickie, low-effort logo designed for the sake of having one during a business launch is not advisable to trademark. I mean, you can. But it’s a waste of time, money, and energy when you know it will have to be replaced, and you will have to start the whole process again.

A logo must consistently be in use to be protected by the trademark, so if your logo isn’t here to stay long-term, it may not be worth the money or time to trademark it.

The Logo Is Not Unique

If you know that your logo is similar to another logo that is in use in your region, tread carefully. If it is identical to a large brand, people may get confused, and you would be at risk for legal troubles with a national company. That won’t go well. In this case, you must alter your logo. 

Trust me, you do not want to look like a copycat. Infringement risks aside, having a unique logo builds credibility as a brand. If you feel your logo is too similar to another, check out LOGO.com and create a new and better logo for your business.

There are some exceptions. If you own a small business and the other company also owns a small business, and you are based in different countries, you probably won’t encounter issues with confusion. However, this does not mean you won’t face legal problems. 

Trademarking your logo avoids the complication of possibly having to spill money over a lawsuit.

The Business Is Temporary

If you aren’t entirely sure your business will last, it might not be a good idea to trademark anything. Maybe it’s a side gig, and you’re not ready to pursue it further. Whatever the arrangement, if it is temporary, hold off on trademarks. It is not sensible to register a logo that may or may not be there in the future.

Cautionary Notes When Trademarking A Logo

  • A trademark cannot grant you sole rights to anything generic. A business named “Yellow Mangoes” cannot be trademarked because it is too basic and general. 
  • A trademark cannot prohibit other people from using your intellectual property in ways that are compliant with the Fair Use Doctrine. Fair Use lets the general population use trademarked and copyrighted work in a manner that does not allow consumer confusion.
  • Trademarking your logo only grants you protection in the country where you registered for the trademark. Trademarking your logo in one country makes it easier to trademark in another country. However, you still must file for a separate trademark in each country that you want legal security.
  • If your logo is strong enough, it will qualify for trademark protection. If it lacks in quality and originality, the USPTO or another trademark office will reject it.

Creation Of A Strong Logo

A good logo is distinctive, relevant, practical, and straightforward. It conveys the company's essence and vision. A logo should be printed in any size and still look clear and presentable, even without color. Essentially, a strong logo boils down to two principles: great concept and proper execution.

A logo is defined by your brand’s values and voice. The history and future of the foundation of your brand come to life visually with your logo.

Reasons For A Rejected Logo Trademark

There are several reasons why your trademark application got rejected, and they all mostly have to do with a weak logo. Below are some of the most common reasons for logo trademark rejections:

It Is A Generic Logo

It may have gotten rejected because of a likelihood that consumers would confuse your logo with an existing trademarked logo. In this case, it would be best to change or alter it in a way that you know is unique and prominent.

It Is An Offensive Or Confusing Logo

Your logo may have gotten rejected because it contains offensive phrases or visuals. Furthermore, if the logo’s text or imagery is confusing, overwhelming, and incomprehensible— it may be grounds for rejection. Logos need to be easily understood and simple enough for people to grasp.

If you feel like your logo can be much stronger and clearer than it is right now, visit LOGO.com to improve the design with an AI-powered system that can customize it precisely according to your preferences. Minimalist and unique visuals tend to lead to a more successful logo.

However, if you feel the rejection was an error, you can always file for an appeal to have the application reviewed again. If it turns out you got rejected because your logo doesn’t qualify for a trademark, it’s back to the drawing board. Don’t worry, we’ll help this time.

Common Questions Around Trademarking A Logo

Can You Trademark Your Logo For Free?

You can not register a trademark for free. However, what you can do is establish something known as a "common law trademark" for free. You can do this by simply opening for business. The benefit of relying on common law trademark rights is that it's free, and you don't need to do any specific work filling out forms, paying the fees, and more.

Can You Trademark Your Logo If You Designed It Using A Logo Maker?

Yes, you can. When you design and purchase a logo using our logo maker, you can full ownership of your logo design. So, you own that logo and can trademark it easily.

How To Trademark A Logo: Conclusion

Knowing how to trademark a logo is crucial because there are exploitative people out there ready to infringe or steal your creative intellectual property.

A trademark for your logo is essential for any business. The only downside is that it is a highly technical and complex process, and nearly everybody with plans to do this needs credible legal assistance. 

Nevertheless, you must take the steps necessary to secure your company logo the best way you can, even if it entails a little bit of sacrifice. 

As a brand, it is in your best interest to learn how to trademark a logo and be protective of your unique company assets. Just always remember that before you file for a trademark, ensure that you even have a unique logo to trademark in the first place. 

A distinctive logo is more likely to be approved than a generic one, so if you don’t already have one, check out our logo maker.

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