I just started a home-based business designing accessories for mobile electronic devices. I would like to protect my company name and logo. Can you explain how I can accomplish this?
If you have a business name, catch phrase, logo design or a combination of those that you want to legally protect, you’ll need to bone up on trademarks—a form of relatively low-cost legal protection for this type of “intellectual property.”
Applying for a federal trademark, or its companion the service mark, is a crucial step toward protecting a business name. But trademarks are not the same as patents and copyrights, even though the differences are not widely understood. While there are similarities, they serve different purposes.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, name, symbol or device used in business to indicate a source of the goods, i.e. your business, and to distinguish those goods from those sold by another business. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.
A patent for an invention grants a specific legal property right to the inventor—“the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling” the same invention.
A copyright is harder to define. It is mainly a protection for authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works, both published and unpublished.
The Internet has transformed the once mysterious process of applying for a trademark into something accessible to anyone willing to spend some time to understand the intricacies and get it right. But while no business skills or special legal knowledge are required to apply, the field is filled with potential pitfalls and wrong turns that could sabotage your trademark filing if you don’t know the intricacies of creating trademarks that can stand up to legal challenges later on.
For example, the application requires that you identify goods or services under specific categories. But misunderstanding these categories and filing too broadly or too narrowly can ruin your trademark and cause problems later on. Seeking help from a qualified trademark attorney will help prevent such problems.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is the most authoritative source of information. Everything you need to research and apply for a trademark is at the USPTO Web site, www.uspto.gov. A section for beginners, available from the Home page, offers a simplified introduction to USPTO services.
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