The Process of Registering a Trademark or Service Mark

Registered Trademark Symbol
••• By Roman Tworkowski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You have started your business and you have a great logo that you want to use as a trademark. Or you have a service mark that describes your services. You want to be sure that no one else can use this trademark or service mark, so you want to register it. Although you can use a trademark or service mark without registering it, there are several benefits to registering this mark:

  • Registration serves as notice of your claim of ownership.
  • Registration helps support your claim of ownership if you need to go to court.
  • You can use U.S. trademark registration to help you obtain registration in other countries.

Trademarks and Service Marks are registered in the U.S. and internationally through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

What's the Process for Registering a Trademark?

Search the Trademark Records. Before you register a trademark or service mark, check to see if someone else is already using it, with the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)

Find the Correct Classification for Your Trademark. One of the most important parts of registering your trademark is to select the right category to best fit your mark. The USPTO has a Goods and Services Manual that lets you search for the classification that best fits your product or service.

Don't neglect these first two steps - searching and finding the correct classification. The Trademark Office will reject your application (and won't refund your money) if you register a trademark that already exists or that doesn't fit the description.

File Online. If you determine that no one else is using the trademark, you can file your application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).

Register internationally. International trademark registration is now available through the TEAS system. 

Pay the Registration Fee. There are three different types of trademark applications, ranging in price between $225 and $400. You must pay a separate fee for each product or service classification you are registering. For example, if you are trademarking the title of a new series of books (like the "Dummies" books, for example), you would need separate registrations for printed books and e-books. 

Include a Specimen

A specimen (an example of your trademark in use) must be included with your registration. For example, you might include an advertisement or a label using the logo you want to trademark. 

What Do I Need to Know about the Trademark Application?

  • You must complete a separate application for each type of product or service. Even a slight difference can mean completing a separate application.
  • The mark must be shown (including colors) and described completely. This section is complex and asks for very detailed information.
  • If you want to use a real person's name, portrait, or signature in your trademark, you must show that you have permission from this person.
  • Your description of your mark must specifically and completely match the category in the ID Manual (link above). Close doesn't count.

Before you begin the trademark application process, read through this PDF version of the application. See this New TEAS Application for an example.

What is the Trademark Approval Process?

When the Trademark Registration Office receives your registration, they do a search to make sure it is not being used, and they review the trademark to see if it fits within their guidelines. Some reasons why a trademark might not be approved are:

  • It includes immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter
  • It disparages or falsely portrays a person, institution, belief, or national symbol
  • It uses the U.S. flag
  • it includes the name of a living person or identifies that person without consent
  • It resembles another mark already registered
  • It is merely descriptive or deceptively descriptive
  • It is primarily a surname (last name or family name)
  • It is merely functional.

If Your Trademark Registration is Approved
It may take many months for your trademark to be approved. If approved, the Registration is good for ten years (for trademarks issued after November 16, 1989). At the end of that time, you must file a renewal application to maintain the trademark.

If Your Trademark Registration is not Approved
You may appeal the denial. Your fee will probably not be returned.

Should I Use an Attorney to Register a Trademark?

Trademark applications are complicated, and you don't want to spend a lot of money on the application and miss something important. Although it is not required that you use an attorney to file a trademark registration application, it may be a good idea to do so if you have questions about the process or if you are not certain that your trademark will be accepted. Look for an intellectual property lawyer to help you with this important process.