Trademarks for Creative People

Trademarks for Creative People
by Susan Basko, esq.

A trademark is a mark that signifies a good or a service that is in commerce.  Most trademarks are a word or a short set of words.  Some trademarks are a logo.  A few trademarks are a sound.  

Federal trademark registration takes at least a year to complete.  There are many phases to trademark registration.  The process starts with a good search by a lawyer to see if it is likely that your trademark will register successfully.  When I am registering a trademark, I consider the initial search the most important part! If I decide that a trademark is not likely to register successfully, I will tell this to the client.  If I think it will register successfully, but with some legal wrangling, I also let the client know.  If the trademark is not likely to succeed, I offer to help the client come up with a trademark that is more likely to be successful. If your proposed trademark conflicts with an existing trademark, you won't likely be able to register it, and you might get a cease and desist letter telling you to stop using it.

 It is best to have a robust trademark that is unique, creative, original, and all your very own.  A strong trademark helps build a strong business.  Most larger businesses start with one main trademark and then develop and register other trademarks over time.

The next step is to choose the right category of goods or services in which to register your trademark.  This can be very complicated, with many factors involved.  This is why it is important to use an experienced trademark lawyer.

The next step is the application, paying the fee, and uploading "specimens," - which are examples of your trademark in use.  There are lots of very specific rules on what kind of specimens are considered proof for which kinds of goods or services.  The specimen might be a tag or label with the trademark that is attached to the goods for sale.  A specimen might be the trademark used on a website or on a point of sale for a service.

After the application is completed, we sit back and wait.  Then, after about 4 months, a trademark examiner is assigned to the case.  Then, there will be a series of back-and-forth communications between the examiner and the trademark lawyer.  Sometimes the lawyer has to respond to the examiners "office action" or letter with a legal argument or set of facts trying to overcome the examiner's nonfinal refusal.  If everything can get ironed out, the trademark will then go to publication for a month, where anyone can object.  If there are no valid objections, a certificate of trademark is issued about 12 weeks after it went to publication.  That's a long process and one filled with details and lots of work, but a trademark is a very valuable asset.  

Some of the creative people who should consider registering trademarks are:

Bands or music artists should consider registering trademark on their names if they are playing paying shows or if they have sold a series of sound recordings under their name.  If you have the name trademark registered, your name is protected.  If you get a big recording or touring deal, you won't be forced to change your name (and lose the goodwill inherent in the name) because of fears of confusion with a different group.  Your name will be yours.

Online businesses should consider registering the name of their company and/or the names of their services or features. Twitter and Facebook went to great trouble and expense to get trademarks on their names.  If you start an online business, it is best to consult first before you decide on a name.  That way, you can come up with a name that is original and unique to your company.  Then, your trademarks will be much easier to register.  

 Trademarks are a valuable asset.  They signify to your potential customers that the goods or services are authentic and created by you.  A trademark can last the lifetime of the business, as long as it is still being used in commerce.  Think of some of the all-time great trademarks: Nabisco, Kleenex, Clorox, IBM, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, McDonald's, Greyhound.  These trademarks are part of our American life.  Each one of these very strong trademarks signifies to us a set of valuable goods and services, and we expect a certain quality from them.