By Rieva Lesonsky
These days when you’re looking for small business capital or wooing an investor, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? That’s right, search on your business name. And if you haven’t done your due diligence and not only picked an original name, but also applied for the trademark of that name, you’re not sending a very professional message to customers, investors or your industry colleagues.
A trademark protects your brand name, your logo and your business’s slogan, but you have to take the proper steps. Start with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and get acquainted with the trademark process. The USPTO guides you through a name search, business description and class specification, and can help you with all the details of applying for trademark protection. You’ll need to provide a sample to the USPTO, if you have already begun using your brand name and logo without trademarking them. You need to show where and how you are using the name, such as on your company letterhead or in your website URL.
Although the USPTO website is fairly easy to navigate, with helpful videos, samples and FAQs, it’s crucial for you to fill out the application correctly so you don’t have to reapply. There may be parts that are confusing or that you’re not clear about. It might be easier to either hire a trademark attorney (try RocketLawyer) or go through a trademark search and filing service like the one offered by Legalzoom or The Company Corporation.
After you file you will receive notice of “like” trademarks to your business name to see if you believe there are any businesses close to your own with the same name. Your work isn’t done once your trademark has been approved. You can lose a trademark if another company wants the name and the USPTO doesn’t see proof that you are using it. The United States trademark system is based on use, not simply who has registered the trademark. That means you need to actually use the trademark consistently and repeatedly or it is considered abandonment and your rights to the trademark could be revoked.
Another way to get your trademark revoked is to fail to ensure quality in your business. Trademarks are granted to the small business owner with the understanding the owner of the trademark uses it to communicate to the consumer the quality of the business. Also, if you use the trademark across too many different types of products and you confuse the consumer, the trademark recognition is diluted and you could lose rights to your trademark.
Once you have your trademark and are using it, proof of use must be provided between the fifth and sixth year of trademark ownership, and the trademark must be renewed every 10 years.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports