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HomeResourceWhen Should You Register Your Company’s Trademark?

When Should You Register Your Company’s Trademark?

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What happens to your brand if you don’t have a registered trademark? A competitor could steal your mark, or start using a mark that is confusingly similar. Either action could weaken your brand and confuse your customers. People may not be able to tell which products and services are yours and which are a competitor’s. You simply can’t market a brand successfully without a strong trademark.

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But when is a good time to register your trademark? You don’t want to wait until you’re already doing business. You should register your trademark as soon as you have decided on a business name. You’ll need to brainstorm potential names and trademarks as a first step towards starting your business, so you can get trademark protection from day one, and so you don’t end up accidentally stealing someone else’s trademarks.

Protect Your Trademark from the Beginning

The reason it’s so important to register your trademark in the beginning stages of starting your business is so that you can have federal protection for your trademark from the time you first begin using it. If you delay registering your trademark until after you’ve started conducting business, you risk another company registering your trademark or a trademark that is similar to yours for their own use. Then you could find yourself in a tough situation.

You can receive common law protection for your trademark merely by using it. However, that protection doesn’t extend very far. It usually applies only to the immediate geographical area in which you’re operating. Consider the case of Burger King of Fla., Inc. v. Hoots. In this lawsuit, the Hoots family attempted to assert their rights to an unregistered trademark of the “Burger King” name. Unfortunately for them, Burger King the Florida-based fast food restaurant held the federally registered trademark for the Burger King name. The courts held that the Hoots had used the Burger King trademark in good faith – they weren’t aware that the name had already been trademarked. As a result, they were deemed to be in possession of a common law trademark. The outcome of the case is that the popular restaurant chain can’t open a location within 20 miles of the Hoots’s original restaurant – that’s how far their unregistered trademark is deemed to extend. The Hoots couldn’t assert their rights to the trademark throughout their state, much less throughout the nation.

Federal trademark registration provides federal protection for your trademark. Your business may be small now, but if you want to expand later, you could wind up needing that federal protection. Registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also means that you can register your mark with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection so they will stop the importation of any counterfeit goods using your mark illicitly or using a similar mark. You’ll have the right to bring any trademark infringement cases in federal court. You’ll be the presumptive owner of your trademark, so you won’t have to provide a ton of evidence of you using the trademark to the court. And getting a federal trademark registration is necessary if you want to register your trademark internationally.

Protect Your Trademark from the Beginning

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Search for Similar Trademarks

When you get a federal trademark registration, part of the process is checking the USPTO database for marks that are the same or similar to yours. You have a responsibility to conduct a comprehensive trademark search of both the federal database and any state or local databases. If you submit an application for a trademark that infringes on someone else’s trademark, your application will be denied. Even if your application is approved, if it’s later found that you infringed on someone else’s trademark, you could be forced to stop using your trademark immediately. All the hard work you put into your brand could then be gone.

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Apply for Trademark Registration in Advance

If your business is still in its infancy and you’re not quite ready to use your trademark yet, you can file an “intent-to-use” application. An intent-to-use application allows you to register a trademark you’re not yet using as long as you begin using it within six months of the application’s approval. You can file for as many as four six-month extensions to this deadline. However, you’re going to have to show the USPTO good cause for why you need each extension. A registered trademark is meant to be used, and if you stop using it, or fail to begin using it, you’ll lose your trademark rights.

Don’t put off registering your company’s trademark. Protect your intellectual property as soon as you can, so you can focus on building your brand, free from infringement by competitors.

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