How Do I Protect My Trademark?
YOU HAVE (AT LEAST) THREE OPTIONS.
Most people don't realize that there are at least three (or more, when you start talking about international processes) ways a trademark can be protected. There's something called common law. There's your state's law. Then there's federal law. I'll talk about each one down below.
First, common law trademark protection happens automatically. Once you begin using a trademark that meets all of the basic requirements, you start to obtain something called common law trademark protection in the specific geographic locations where you are selling and offering for sale products and services. If you're selling products on one block in Brooklyn, your common law trademark protection starts to form on that block. You don't have to do anything else - there's no registration process for common law trademarks (meaning, its free!). The danger, of course, is that your protection is limited to that area. If someone in New Jersey wants to use exactly the same trademark on exactly the same products or services, they can probably do that.
You can also use the ™ symbol on your common law trademark - this communicates to others that you are staking your claim to it. There aren't any restrictions on how you use it. Most of the time, however, it is located in the upper right hand corner, lower right hand corner, or level with the trademark. Using ™ doesn't guarantee that your trademark is protected, but it provides a great starting point to convey your intentions.
Second, you can apply for trademark protection in your specific state. Visit this link for state trademark information. Please keep in mind that you need an attorney licensed in your state to file a state-specific trademark. If you go this route, you are only protected in the state where the application was approved. The application fee for a state trademark is usually a lot less expensive than the federal trademark application fee.
Third, federal trademark applications are filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you are successful in your application, your trademark will be protected nationwide. The federal application process is more involved than the state process, and more expensive and time consuming. Any licensed attorney can assist you with filing a federal trademark application, regardless of geographical location. Once your mark is registered, you can stop using ™ and now use the ® symbol, which indicates that you have the Patent and Trademark Office's stamp of approval and nationwide trademark protection.
You may need to use one, or more, of these avenues. If you are interested in pursuing federal trademark protection, please contact us. If you want to pursue state trademark protection, we can only help you in areas where our attorneys are licensed.