How to Register a Trademark

Article Summary

For entrepreneurs and other business owners, having a registered trademark helps you to protect the intellectual property you’ve worked hard to create.

The process of registering a trademark usually takes a year or longer, and typically cost about from $1,000 to $5,000 using a trademark attorney. The ultimate cost depends upon how difficult it is to register the specific trademark you want to protect.


What is a Trademark?

The word trademark refers to a collection of many different things, including words, names, symbols, images, designs, or anything else that can identify your business or something about your business and its products. Trademarks include brand names, logos, and other kinds of identifies.

Trademarks in the United States are governed by the US Patent Trade Office (USPTO), which defines a trademark specifically as follows:

trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

It should be noted that trademarks are used to identify the source of physical goods, although the word trademark has been historically used to denote physical goods as well as services offered by a business.

Technically, items used to identify physical products are referred to as trademarks, whereas similar concepts applied to services are known as service marks.

The USPTO defines a service mark this way:

service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.

For convenience, when referring to intellectual property involving either things that fall under the technical trademark designation or those things that are technically identified as service marks, the word trademark is used for either.

Register or Common Law?

You don’t necessarily have to officially register a trademark in order to actually have one. There are what’s called “common law” rights associated with trademarks that protect businesses whose trademark-qualified intellectual property can be demonstrated as having been used in the past. Unregistered trademarks are identified with the TM symbol. Unregistered service marks are identified using the SM symbol.

Common law trademark rights can only be enforced in the geographical area to which your business pertains. Because it’s difficult to prove when a trademark was first used, common law trademarks are difficult to enforce, although they do provide you some protection against the possibility of a similar trademark that was put into use after yours to limit your ability to use the trademark.

Registering a trademark gives you several advantages over the common law version of a trademark. Those advantages include:

  • A registered trademark gives it and your company more visibility
  • A registered trademark give the owner sole legal, clear ownership over the trademark.
  • A registered trademark dissuades others from using it.
  • In the case that someone infringes on a registered trademark, legal action can be taken to stop them.
  • Registering a trademark gives it monetary value.
  • Registered trademarks can be sold or licensed for others to use for a fee.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Registered Trademark?

The process for obtaining a registered trademark involves some back and forth between you (or your attorney) and the USPTO. Here’s how that process works

Trademark Application: If you’re confident that nobody else has the rights to the trademark you want to register, you can file an application with the USPTO to begin the registration process. There are three different application forms (TEAS Plus, TEAS RF, and TEAS Regular) that can be used to apply for a registered trademark. The cost and application requirements for these three types of applications vary. Choosing a specific application type depends upon your specific registration needs.

Ensuring that your application is done correctly can shorten the next step of the process, when your application is reviewed by the USPTO.

USPTO Review: Once you’ve submitted your trademark application to the USPTO, they will review the application to determine whether your trademark meets their criteria for official registration. Depending upon the workload being handled by the USPTO, their review can take up to six months, but can sometimes be faster.

Applicant Response: If the application doesn’t provide enough information for the USPTO to make a decision about whether it qualifies for registration, the USPTO will request more information or clarification from the applicant. Submitting a response that the USPTO can review can add another six months onto the timeline. If you’re in a hurry to have your trademark registered, it’s best to be thorough on the initial application form and to choose the correct form.

Trademark Publication: Intellectual property law requires a potential trademark to be published for opposition (allowing the public to know about the trademark and giving the opportunity to challenge it) in an official newspaper. This period can take three months.

Certificate of Registration: After publication of your trademark for opposition, you’ll want to allow another three months for the USPTO to create a certificate of registration, which officially indicates that you have a registered trademark, which is now on file wit the USPTO

Cost of Trademark Registration

Because trademark registration usually involves hiring an attorney (unless you know enough about the process yourself), it can be expensive, especially in cases where the trademark is not as clear or if it is challenged by someone whose existing trademark is similar.

The minimum that is normally charged by attorneys to file a trademark application is about $1,000. In addition to that fee, you’ll need to pay the USPTO application fee, which ranges from $225 to $400, depending upon the type of trademark registration you’re after.

If your trademark application is complicated, you’ll likely end up spending much more than the $1,200 or so involved in the simplest of trademark filings. Trademark attorneys normally charge somewhere in the hundreds of dollars per hour to handle responses and challenges to publications of trademarks.

If you feel like your trademark is simple enough that you don’t need to hire an attorney, if you already know enough about the application process, or if your trademark isn’t such a critical part of your business that you need the expensive type of attorney  for assistance,  you could use one of the discount trademark application processes like LegalZoom, whose trademark registration filings start at $199. Small businesses whose legal budget is limited often opt to go this route instead of hiring an attorney.