Cease and desist.
Those can be pretty scary words.
To be honest, I’ve seen them a few times during my solopreneur journey.
If you receive a letter with these words, it’s typically from an attorney who has been hired to protect the intellectual property of another and defend this property against infringement.
This past year I had a client who received such a letter. She had started a business using a great name that fit perfectly with her product and mission. Sales were coming in and the business was growing.
Then the letter came.
This business name had been previously trademarked by another individual in the same product space. The trademark owner’s claim had been infringed on.
My client was forced to completely change her business name and deal with all the hassle and confusion that came along with it.
In the internet age where almost everything can be searched on the web, you can’t fly under the radar for very long.
If you’re using someone else’s intellectual property, it’s just a matter of time before it bites you!
It only makes sense to trademark a name for your business before you run into legal trouble.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through two things.
First, I’ll show you how to do a fast, simple trademark search.
As tempting as it is to jump the gun and start a coffee company called “Jitters”, don’t do it.
Check the database first!
I’ll show you how.
Secondly, I’ll explain how to protect your business and intellectual property and how to choose between a trademark, copyright, and patent.
Let’s get started!
The US government runs the IP (intellectual property) protection program through its website https://uspto.gov.
To do a basic word search, you can use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) available at https://tmsearch.upsto.gov.
On that page, choose the “Basic Word Mark Search” option.
As with most government-run websites, this system looks like it was built with Microsoft Frontpage in 1997.
Take a few seconds to soak up the awesomeness of those 7 fantastic blue buttons.
When you’ve had your fill of nostalgia, just leave all the default settings in place, type in a search term, and press ‘Enter’ on your keyboard.
You’ll be rewarded with a list of all trademark filings related to your search term. Some will be shown as “live” (meaning they are still active) and some may show as “dead” (meaning they’ve expired or have been abandoned).
You can click on individual results in the list to see details about each trademark.
Now, before you go into depression because your big idea for the watercraft rental startup “Beautiful Waves” has already been registered, take a deep breath. It’s likely that the live trademark pertains to a completely different industry.
Maybe the “Beautiful Waves” trademark was filed for a hair salon.
If that’s the case, it’s likely that you can still register the trademark for your rental business because it’s in a totally unrelated field.
Ultimately, it’s up to the USPTO examiner to make the call, but it’s worth a try!
Now, there are a ton of other options and filters in the TESS that are beyond the scope of this simple tutorial. I am not spelling out an exhaustive search here. Rather, I’m just showing you how to get a fifty-foot view of the existing trademark activity around your business name idea.
If you have legal questions or hesitations, please consult a professional.
With that fun disclaimer behind us, let’s examine the difference between a copyright, trademark, and patent. Here’s a quick visual breakdown of the three.
Let’s say you’re looking to start and underwater basket weaving business called “Aqua Weave”.
You’d be looking for a trademark, because you’re establishing a brand.
Let’s also imagine that you came up with a nifty little tool that helps you weave these irresistible little baskets in record time. You’d also want to consider applying for a patent to protect that invention.
Now let’s go all in and say you also wrote “The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Basket Weaving.” Well, you guessed it, you’d want a copyright for that literary masterpiece.
Because, you know, there’s a lot of competition in that space. 😏
For the rest of this article, I’m going to assume that you are most interested in registered a trademark to protect your business name and brand.
Before we go any further, I’m going to drop one more disclaimer here and remind you that I’m not a legal attorney.
I once built a website for a law firm, and designed a logo for a lawyer, (no it wasn’t Saul Goodman) but that’s as close as I’ve been.
I’m writing this article based on my own experience of self-applying and successfully registering 4 different trademarks over the past several years.
If you’re not comfortable with a DIY solution when it comes to intellectual property, please consult a pro!
While you can self-apply for a trademark on the https://uspto.gov website, I’m going to highly recommend going the “hybrid-DIY” route and using a company called Trademark Engine.
Trademarkengine.com has been my go-to for the 4 successful marks I’ve registered. They make it easy, straightforward, and cost effective to trademark a name for your business.
Speaking of cost, let’s answer this important question:
How much does a trademark cost?
I can provide a simple answer to that.
But first, you need to understand that there are two variations of trademark registration: word marks and design marks.
A word mark is simply a word or phrase typed in standard characters without regard to font, style, or color.
For instance, I have filed a word mark for my web design company “Spirelight”. So, nobody else can legally start a USA web design company by that name.
Then, there is a “design mark.” Simply stated, a design mark is the graphical logo quality of your brand.
This may be a shape or icon, or even the word itself in a particular font and color combo.
You can choose to register a word mark, a design mark, or both, but you’ll have to pay for each one individually.
For my business, it made more sense to register a word mark, because my web design company is known more by its name than its logo.
I can always go back and apply for the design mark at a later time.
Having explained that, here’s what you’re looking at for time and cost on a trademark application.
|Filing Fee||TM Engine Fee||Total|
|Word Mark||$225||$99||$324 or|
|Design Mark||$225||$99||$324 or|
|Turnaround =||9 Months|
If you opt for Trademark Engine or a similar service, you can choose from a few different service levels.
I’ve always gone with the $99 option, and the guidance they’ve given is well worth it.
Understand that this is not a fast process.
You’re not going to apply for a trademark and get it in mail next weekend.
While there are expedited services available from other sources, the budget method I’m describing here is at least a 9-month process.
If you’re a mom, it’s kind of like your pregnancy was, only the hard part is at the beginning, not the end.
Ok, that was a bad analogy, let’s move on.
During this process, your application gets queued, reviewed by a federal examiner, then publicly posted for a number of months to allow it to be challenged by any third party who has a problem with it.
Once your application passes all of those milestones, you’ll get your TM certificate in the mail, and your official filing in the USPTO database.
One final thing to note in your quest to trademark a name…
During the “public display” stage of your application, you will almost certainly start getting emails and snail mail letters from third party solicitors.
They will sound very official and use tricky language to try to get you to send them money, usually in exchange for getting your trademark listed in their “super important database.”
Don’t fall for it, and don’t respond to this junk mail.
Neither one of those entities will ask you for more money than you paid initially.
Hope this article has been helpful as you research how to trademark a name for your business.
Do you have a trademark experience or advice to share?
I’d love to hear it!