Well, you can add the ™ symbol to your brand name and declare it as your trademark before you officially file for registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It turns out that the first right to own a trademark is based on its use in the public domain, not the registration – a crucial notion!
In other words, your rights to claim your trademarked word combination start accruing as soon as the ™ symbol is used in connection with a tagline, slogan, product, or service name. It is the validation of use in the marketplace, and it has to be established first before you can file the trademark application. First come, first serve.
But wait, let’s back up a second. You may wonder, “What is a trademark, and why should I care to have one?” Excellent question! In legal terms, a trademark is an official notice to the public that you own this intellectual property, and that others cannot accrue rights to the same name if they start using it later on similar products or services. In other words, having the ™ symbol next to your brand name indicates to the public that you’re serious about your business and that you claim this particular name or word combination name as your intellectual property.
Since a brand name is the foundation of your business or at least one of its key cornerstones, it’s an absolute must to have in place. More importantly, your trademark allows you to increase your company’s perceived value, which helps you establish yourself in the marketplace, charge accordingly, and thus make more impact.
Brand protection is serious business. Did you know that the perceived brand value of big brand names can make up more than 50% of the market value of a public company and dominate entire industries? A brand name alone can be worth millions of dollars, and an excellent brand can prosper despite economic downturns. If you’re in business with your intellectual creation, you cannot afford to operate without having an official brand that’s legally trademarked.
But wait! There’s a caveat. If you’re not the first user to add the ™ symbol, it’s better to leave your fingers off that name, or you’re at risk of trademark infringement, and that can get costly and ugly. If you’ve launched your program or brand on the foundation of someone else’s trademark, knowingly or not, it can stop your business in its tracks.
Sadly this happens all the time, especially with domain use. Just because a domain name is available doesn’t mean you technically have the right to use the trademarked name. The trademark owner can ask you to release the domain, and man, can that be an inconvenience.
It puzzles me that many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to research existing trademark use. If you put all the time, money, and effort into a launch, wouldn’t you like to know that you’re not going to run into trouble further down the road? That’s why it’s so important to do the necessary research before you roll out your program or brand.
If you’re lucky and your registration is successful, your trademark eventually becomes your official symbol of intellectual ownership. It’s that moment when you are allowed to add the R symbol to your name. I think that’s a sexy achievement that every entrepreneur should experience at least once. To some, it may be equally gratifying than say writing a book. And hey, it’s much less work!
But certainly don’t use the ® symbol without having first received the fancy “Registration Certificate” with the golden seal from the Federal Trademark Office. Only once a trademark is federally registered are you legally allowed to use the ® symbol, never before. While you’re encouraged to use the ™ symbol before applying to demonstrate the “in-use” of the mark, Federal Trademark Attorney’s don’t like it at all if you claim the ® symbol without their official permission. That’s a big no-no, so let’s not get those symbols confused.
Speaking of symbols, it’s essential to understand the difference between the ™ and the ℠ symbol. Traditionally, the ℠ symbol stands for service mark, commonly used in the advertisement for a service rather than on the packaging of a product since there is generally no “package” for a delivered service to place the mark on, which is the practice for trademarks. However, in recent years Internet marketing principles have changed this idea, and many coaches and other service providers are starting to “package their services.” That’s why I advise my clients to always add the ™ to their brand names instead of the less known service mark symbol. Ultimately they both turn into the registered trademark symbol ®, in the case of a successful application that is.
One common shortcoming I see is that many entrepreneurs operate with the ™ symbol for many years without having followed up with the official registration. It’s easy to start things, but it takes that extra determination to finish them. It’s okay to operate with the ™ for a few months until you’ve tested it in the marketplace, done your research and are confident that it works, and committed to sticking with it. But once you have clarity, swiftly move forward with the trademark registration. Don’t hesitate. I know firsthand the resistance in dealing with a slow and complicated federal institution or with law firms for that matter. It is an uncomfortable junction, and we can all feel a bit like a fish out of water. But remember, once you get over the initial hurdle, your official trademark registration provides peace of mind for many years to come. It’s absolutely worth the effort.
Lastly, trademark rights can expire. Trademark rights last as long as the trademark is in continuous use, with an emphasis on continuous. If you’re taking a trademarked product or service off the (virtual) shelf for a while, be sure you keep at least a web page up that refers to it. In other words, even if a product or service isn’t continuously available for purchase, the trademark itself needs to be continuously in public display to avoid expiration.
Can you file for a trademark on your own? Yes, you can. According to a Federal Trademark Attorney I spoke to, a straight forward application will suffice in 2/3 of the cases if you’ve done your due diligence, and your brand name is unique enough. However, you can run into sticky situations where you need to make a claim or defend a rejection, and for that, you need legal representation.
A general rule of thumb is if the trademark database comes back with lots of results, consult with a trademark attorney. If it yields zero results, there’s a good chance that you can succeed filing on your own. Some intermediate providers do the filing for you for a minimal fee and have trademark attorneys on standby should the need arise. In either scenario, successful registration isn’t a guarantee. An application for approval remains what it is: an application.
Speaking from my own experience, the first time I filed for a trademark, I hired a lawyer, and I was glad that I did. My second trademark, I successfully filed on my own. And I’ve also hired a trademark service to defend, register, and renew a trademark. As a small business owner, my philosophy is that you got to at least understand how things work before you outsource them. While we’re never fully in control of the outcome, it’s a way to keep our hands on the steering wheel and not get off course. As a result, while I am not a lawyer, I have a general idea of how the process works and won’t become easily overwhelmed.
Last but not least, always file for a federal trademark, not just one with your state. In today’s online world, state borders are irrelevant, and these days most businesses enjoy a global online presence. However, applying for an internationally recognized trademark is a whole other topic that I’m not getting into in this article. You can learn more about the U.S. trademark application process here.
Now on the flip side, over the years, I’ve heard many people say that they don’t believe in trademarking because they’re not a match to others stealing or misusing their intellectual property, an argument that mainly stems from the Law of Attraction perspective. Let me reframe that notion. Owning a trademark is not a symbol of defense or even protection. It is a symbol of taking a decisive stand for the value and contribution you’re offering to the world and taking full responsibility for it. It’s like saying to the universe:
“I’m putting a stake into the ground. I am ready to go fully in and receive your complete support.”
To me that’s pure creation power. That’s why, like I said, owning a trademark is not about fear of competition or fear in general. It is about nuanced differentiation in the marketplace. It is about your unique fingerprint and taking that into your own hands. It’s about finding your groove, standing out, and leaving your unique “mark.”
I know there’s plenty of room for everyone to have their genius space. Consciously or unconsciously, trespassing on someone else’s intellectual space is bad karma. If you come up with an idea or a name that’s already in use, put your thinking cap back on and think harder. Or get my help. To come up with uniquely calibrated brand names that are also a reflection of a person’s divine soul purpose and mission in life is my God-given specialty and treasured passion. I have helped countless entrepreneurs claim brand names that just for the .com domain alone are worth tens of thousands of dollars, not even remotely including the overall brand and company value.
So, are you ready to claim your space? If so, I’d love to help you put it all together so you can emerge with clarity and confidence.