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Protecting the Brand: How To Register a Trademark For Your Online Store

8 min read

One of the first steps many entrepreneurs take when starting a business (or thinking about starting a business) is crafting an original, creative, and distinctive business name or logo.

Having the perfect business name or logo can help set you apart from your competition and develop a brand for your business. Building a strong brand is one of the best ways to create buzz about your business and keep customers coming back for more.

Once you have created a business name or logo that you love, it’s important that you protect it and prevent other businesses from using your mark. Without a trademark, competitors and even something outside the scope of your industry can dilute the value of your brand and your business. That’s where trademarks come in.

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What is trademark?

A trademark is a legal, proprietary right you have over a word, phrase, design, or symbol that prevents others from using it in a way that could cause confusion amongst the general public and your potential customer base.

If you create a unique logo for your business, you already have a trademark over that logo under common law even if you never formally register the trademark. If you find that somebody else is using your logo, you can enforce your common law trademark rights to stop that person from infringing on your trademark.

But despite having a common law trademark, enforcing those rights can be a difficult battle. That’s why most businesses choose to register their trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (or “USPTO”). Having a registered trademark creates a presumption that you have the preemptive rights over the logo, and makes the process of enforcing those rights much easier.

If you are not quite ready to take the leap and register your business’s trademark, you can let the general public know that you are asserting your common-law trademark rights by putting a ™ or ℠ next to your business name or logo. (SM stands for “service mark” and is commonly used for businesses that provide a service rather than a product.) That fancy ® symbol is reserved only for federally-registered trademarks.

Reasons To Get Trademarks

  1. to protect your business name, logo, slogan, or other proprietary information and prevent copycats
  2. registered trademarks and other intellectual property may increase the value of your business if you ever sell the business
  3. a unique business name or logo can help make your business more memorable and recognizable.

How to get a trademark?

The process of obtaining a registered trademark ranges from being pretty easy to really difficult. You need to file an application with the USPTO and pay an application fee (the fee starts at $225). If you want to trademark your business name and your logo, you will need to file a separate application for each.

The application will require that you provide information about the business name or logo — more commonly known as the “mark”. Be prepared to give a description of your mark as well as where the mark will be used and in what capacity.

You’ll also have to submit a specimen of the mark. This is not merely an image of your logo or a picture showing your business name. The specimen needs to show that the mark is actively being used in commerce in connection with a class of goods/services. For example, a product label or a screenshot of your website could serve as an acceptable specimen.

The trademark application will also require you to specify a class of goods or services for the mark. The class should describe the goods that are being sold or the types of services being provided. Some classes are broad while others are very narrow. Choosing a broad class would give you a broader range of protection, but it may create more difficulty in registering the trademark.

Choosing a narrow class, on the other hand, will give you a smaller range of protection, but a better likelihood of registration. You can select multiple classes, but you need to be able to show the mark being used in connection with each of the different classes. Take note, trying to register your trademark in multiple classes may make it more difficult to get the registration accepted.

After submitting the application, many applicants will receive an Office Action from the USPTO. An Office Action is essentially a preliminary denial of your registration. If the USPTO thinks your mark is too similar to another mark, for example, the Office Action will describe that and will offer different reasons and legal precedent for why your mark should not be registered.

You may think you’re out of luck at that point, but you’re not! Since we’re talking about the legal system here, you have the chance to counter.

You can write a response to the Office Action and give the USPTO reasons why your registration should not be denied. It is strongly advised that you seek the assistance of an attorney with this, if you haven’t already. Office Actions can be detailed and complicated, and your response may need to address legal precedent and case law to support your position. Even with all of that, the USPTO may still ultimately deny your trademark application.

If the USPTO does not issue an Office Action, or if it accepts your response to an Office Action, then your application will proceed through the application process. This involves waiting…and waiting…and waiting.

The USPTO will need to publish notification of your pending trademark registration and give others the opportunity to object to registration. If there are no objections or other issues that come up, then it’s time to celebrate. The whole process typically takes around a year.

Since the process to get a registered trademark can potentially be very difficult and confusing, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a lawyer. And while we’re on the topic of lawyers, let’s give a disclosure statement saying this blog is not meant to be taken as legal advice — we’re eCommerce experts, not a law firm. :)

Check out Aiden Kramer — a Colorado-based attorney who helps small businesses. She has a great YouTube channel that discusses different legal issues that affect small businesses and just released a new video discussing the steps of registering trademarks.

Do you want to learn more about legal aspects of running an online store?

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About the author

Aniqa, VP Finance at Ecwid, has helped companies achieve desired financial and business goals with a focus on compliance and operational excellence. Outside of work she loves interior designing and traveling around the world.

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