When I was younger, I used to dream of starting my own business. At the time, of course, I didn't realize the amount of work that went into becoming a business owner.

One of the many things you need to think about when you start a business is how to register and trademark your name.

Below, let's review everything you need to know about trademarking a business name.

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What is a trademark?

A trademark is a way to protect your brand name and logo on use of goods or services so other companies can't use the same name or logo. The point being that consumers can easily identify that a product or service comes from a particular company.

It's important to keep in mind that not everything can be trademarked. For instance, you can't trademark generic words or phrases unless that word or phrase isn't commonly used in your industry. Apple, for example, can trademark the use of the word apple to sell phones and computers. However, if they ran an apple store, they couldn't just call it Apple and trademark it.

Additionally, you cannot trademark anything that has an existing trademark. Trademarks can last forever, as long as you continue to use the mark, file documents and pay fees about every ten years.

Applying for a trademark is a legal process, so please keep this in mind:

Disclaimer: This blog post includes some information on legal issues surrounding trademarking a business name, but legal information is not the same as legal advice -- applying the law to a specific circumstance. We've conducted research to better ensure that our information is accurate and useful, but we insist that you talk to a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is accurate. In a nutshell, you may not rely on this information as legal advice, nor as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding, and you should instead see this post's info as for entertainment purposes only.

Now, you might be wondering, "How do I get this process started?" Let's review below.

1. Prepare your application.

To get started, the first thing you need to do is go to the USPTO application site and start preparing your application.

Before you can apply, you'll need to know if your trademark can even be registered. Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to be sure.

Then, look at the site and download the forms you need for your application. It's time to start filling out those forms and gathering them in one place so you're ready to submit your application.

During this point, you might want to hire a trademark attorney to help guide you through the process. While people who are domiciled in the US aren't required to have an attorney, it's strongly encouraged because this legal process can get confusing.

2. Ensure your application meets legal requirements and submit.

Once you've gathered all your forms and you're ready to submit, meet with a lawyer to make sure your application meets all the legal requirements.

For example, for an application to be considered, your trademark needs to be federally registerable, you need to identify your goods and services, and you need to identify the proper filing basis for your application.

Additionally, keep in mind that once this process is started, it requires strict deadlines as it's a legal proceeding.

If you're sure that everything is good to go, it's time to submit.

3. Work with a USPTO examining attorney.

Now that you've submitted your application, you need to monitor the status. This will inform you about the next steps and the strict deadlines you need to adhere to.

When the USPTO moves your application along because you've met the minimum requirements, the application is sent to a USPTO examining attorney.

This attorney will review your application, search for conflicting marks, and review whether you complied with the rules and statutes.

Sometimes the attorney will decide that the mark should not be registered. If that's the case, they'll send you a letter explaining the reasoning and/or giving you action items to fix. If this happens, you need to respond promptly.

4. Receive approval or denial.

After the application has been reviewed and you've been in contact with the examining attorney, then you'll receive either approval or denial.

If you receive approval, then your trademark will be published in a weekly USPTO publication called the "Official Gazette." The reason this happens is that it gives anyone who might feel like the trademark damages their business a chance to respond and file an opposition.

If all goes well, then you'll receive a certificate of registration from the USPTO.

5. Protect your rights.

When you have the certificate in hand, it might feel like you're done with the process. But not yet. You'll need to continue to file specific maintenance documents to keep the registration active. If you don't maintain your trademark, then it will be cancelled or expire and you'll need to submit a new application.

Additionally, you're responsible for enforcing your rights. If someone else uses your trademark, the next step is usually to file a civil suit.

Now that you know how to trademark your business name, you might be wondering, "What is all this going to cost me?" Let's explore below.

How much does it cost to trademark a business name?

To file a trademark, you'll need to pay filing fees, which cost anywhere from $250-350. Then, to maintain your trademark, you'll spend about $200 between the fifth and sixth year and $425 every 10th year.

Ultimately, getting the trademark doesn't cost too much money, but you need to make sure you're staying up to date with the maintenance documents. The next question you might be thinking about is "How long will this take?" Let's review below.

How long does it take to trademark a business name?

Registering a trademark will take months. After you've completed your application, you'll receive a response within six months. Then, you'll either need to provide more documentation or you'll begin the process of getting your certificate of registration.

If you've just started a business, you might be wondering if filing a trademark is the place to get started. But, you might want to start with registering your business in your state first. Let's dive into that more.

How to register a business name?

Once you know what kind of business you're starting and the name, you should begin by registering your business with your state.

Each state has different requirements, but generally any company that conducts business in a certain state should register and form their legal entity with the state's Secretary of State office. This will ensure you're filing appropriate taxes and help you obtain business licenses and permits you might need.

However, you'll still want to file for a trademark because the trademark will provide federal protection. Your state won't protect your business's logo or slogan.

Ultimately, when you start a business, it's important to go through the proper legal processes with your state and the country. Doing so will not only protect your business, but also your intellectual property.

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Originally published Feb 16, 2021 8:00:00 AM, updated February 16 2021

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Entrepreneurship