Logo Design Blog

How the Turtle Got a Trademark (and you can too!)

Last year, while working on branding my second business, I decided to get a registered trademark for the business name. Why would a micro business want or need a trademark? Well, this business operates virtually and at times, internationally – well outside the jurisdiction of a county DBA certificate. The long term plan is to grow the business into a team of independent professionals working in as-needed project clusters. So, my rationale was a combination of protection, branding, and admittedly, a desire to stomp on the world and say, “I’m still here!”

There are three types of intellectual property protection: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. A patent is what an inventor gets to protect their invention idea. A copyright protects a work of authorship, such as music or a book, for 70 years. And a trademark, or service mark, is what you would need to protect your business name and logo from being used by anyone else.

Traditionally, registering a trademark is time consuming process involving lawyers, money, tricky forms, and patience. By researching it and using the US Patent and Trademark Office’s web site, I did it myself. This was a gamble – the $335 filing fee is non refundable if the application is incomplete, the research is not done properly, or the name unavailable. So while I can’t advise another business to do it independently of a legal professional, understanding the process might save your small business money or headaches in the future.

The USPTO web site provides everything business needs to register a trademark, assuming you are willing to wade through all the information and take the gamble. In fact, the entire database of registered trademarks is online so you can research the availability of a name before you even begin branding. This is a good idea because the last thing you need is to build a business and find out someone else actually had registered that name and wants to sue you.

Before even deciding on a business name, I had done a search in Google to see if anyone else had that name. To do an exact search, you simply put the phrase inside quotes. I also tried some variations to be sure there was not anything close to it.

Then I went to the USPTO.gov web site and started digging through TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System), the free online database of all registered (and pending) trademarks. It was straightforward to research the name – the tricky part was the logo. I had to be sure that no one was using a logo with a turtle anything like mine, in an industry anywhere near mine. That required a simple search for the word “turtle” – and then visually verifying the resulting hundreds of logos which had a turtle somewhere in their descriptive entry. If your logo is unique in that no one else is using that mark, you can trademark. If it is similar to another logo, then you have to make sure it is not in use or pending within an industry near the one you work in.

Once I was certain that neither the name nor the service mark (logo) was in use by another business, I started preparing the online application. An application can be for words only, or words plus design. If you are trade marking a design, it must be included as a JPG image in black and white (one more reason to be sure your logo is designed properly!) The complete tutorial is online

At any time, you can check online to see the status of your pending application. The entire process from filing until approval takes about a year, and when it is over, you will get a document from the United States government with a gold seal telling you that your business name is now protected for 10 years. Only then will you have earned the right to affix an ® to your business name!

Eileen ‘Turtle’ Parzek is a veteran marketing designer and online communications consultant who has been working from home and virtually since 1995.

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