Updated July 16, 2020:

While you can learn how to patent an idea, logos cannot be patented because the term patent describes ownership that protects inventions.

However, logos can be protected in a similar way by a trademark or service mark. Trademarks protect logos attached to products while service marks protect logos attached to services. Both trademarks and service marks are often referred to as trademarks. Following these established steps is the best way to trademark your logo.

A logo is any design used by a person or company to promote its business interests. Logos can be images, stylized words, or a combination of these elements.

  • Your logo is valuable. Logos are one of the most valuable assets any company has. Customers can identify a good logo in an instant. They recognize the logos of their favorite brands and use them to guide their purchase decisions. As with any important asset, logos deserve to be protected.
  • Trademarks add credibility. Your trademark notifies the public your logo is your own, original work. This can make your brand seem more prestigious.
  • Trademarks give you freedom. Once your logo is trademarked, you can use it any way you wish.
  • Trademarks prevent logo theft. Without a trademark in place, any business can use your logo. Using a trademarked logo is illegal. Trademarks can deter unscrupulous companies from stealing your logo, much like locked doors deter burglars. Registered trademarks are listed with the United States Trademark and Patent Office, which also makes it more difficult for people to steal your logo.
  • A trademarked logo helps your business grow. When your business logo has a U.S. registered trademark, it can be used in locations throughout the country. This is ideal for small businesses that grow into franchises.

Starting With a Trademark

Legally, you have a basic trademark from the moment you create your logo. Just using the logo gives you rights in your local area. You can increase your rights simply by putting the trademark symbol, ™, next to your logo. If your logo is for a service-based firm, like a hair salon, use the service mark symbol, SM. These symbols are known as common-law marks because they provide common law and federal law protection. When you use these symbols, an infringement lawsuit can be filed if someone uses your logo without your approval.

These logos show the design belongs to your business. They also show your intent to register the trademark in the future. Both the trademark and service mark symbols can be used for as long as you like, since there is no time limit for registering your logo as a trademark. Some small companies just use the TM or SM marks without ever registering their logos.

If your business only operates in your state, you could register for a state-based trademark. Simply file an application with your state's Secretary of State office to obtain this trademark.

Trademarks registered by the USPTO offer greater benefits, so getting one is advisable for any business that can afford the legal and filing fees. The exclusive rights offered by registered trademarks include:

  • Trademark rights recognized across the United States
  • Access to federal courts for infringement cases
  • Constructive use and notice, so people cannot use ignorance about your trademark as a defense
  • Incontestable status after five years of unchallenged registration

Steps to Register a Trademark

The USPTO considers all new U.S. trademark and patent applications. This body also monitors existing trademarks and patents for infringements.

  • Search for similar logos. Only original logos receive trademarks. Search logos with existing, valid trademarks on the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System. If you see similar logos, you should tweak your own so it's unique for your application.
  • Get a professional search. While a personal search is a good start, many novices miss relevant trademarks. For the best results, hire a search company or trademark attorney. Both can conduct a thorough search, but an attorney can better define the search criteria and assess search results.
  • Access and complete the registered trademark application form. The application form is located in the trademarks section of the USPTO website. You can complete your application online or download the form as a PDF to complete later.
  • Submit your application and filing fees. It costs between $275 and $325 per class to file online for a registered trademark. For paper filings, the cost is $375 per class. You must apply for a new class for every different application of your logo. For example, if you want to use your logo on print ads and T-shirts then you will need to apply for both different classes. Fees are non-refundable so it's important to submit a complete, error-free application.

What Happens After You Submit an Application

  • Wait for a response from the USPTO. It can take several weeks before the USPTO responds to your application. That's because a representative must search through existing logos to decide whether yours is original before evaluating your application.
  • You may receive approval or an office action. In the best case, your trademark application will be approved. However, you might receive an office action from the USPTO examining attorney instead. This means your application wasn't approved. A trademark attorney can help you modify your application for resubmission. You can resubmit as many times as you need to.
  • Start using the registered trademark logo. After your application is approved, you should put the ® symbol beside your logo. This shows people your logo is protected by a registered trademark. It is illegal to use this symbol before receiving USPTO approval. You can only use it to promote goods or services listed in your federal trademark registration while that registration remains current.
  • Enforce your trademark rights. It's your responsibility to stop people using your trademark. Setting up a "trademark watch" is one of the best ways to achieve this. An attorney can do this for you. The trademark watch will alert you when someone infringes your copyright. You can then send a cease-and-desist letter or take legal action.

Frequently Asked Questions

While anyone can complete their own trademark application, this process can be difficult for anyone without a thorough understanding of the law. A lawyer can give you real peace of mind and your best chance of trademark approval. Since U.S. trademark registration is a national matter, you are free to hire a lawyer practicing in any state.

If you receive an office action, an attorney can suggest changes so you're likely to get approved if you resubmit. A lawyer can also help you if your logo is similar to other logos or too simple to get trademark approval. An experienced attorney will suggest modifications to help you get your trademark without compromising your design vision. After receiving approval, an attorney can help you set up a trademark watch. If infringement occurs, your attorney can advise you on how to proceed.

  • Can any logo get a trademark?

The USPTO will only grant trademarks to original logos connected to brands. A simple circle isn't original enough to serve as a logo. Similarly, a logo developed by a graphic designer that isn't yet attached to a business isn't eligible for patent protection.

You can certainly trademark any unique business name in much the same way as you can get a trademark for a logo. Most businesses can complete a trademark application for a name in less than 90 minutes via the USPTO website.

  • Check the Trademark Electronic Search System to confirm there's no trademark for an identical or similar name. You cannot trademark a name that's already trademarked. You should consult a lawyer if you're currently using a name that's already trademarked.
  • Complete the application. List details like the category of goods and services, the date the name was first used in commerce, and whether the application has a design component.
  • Submit your application with the required filing fee. As with logo registration, filing a trademark application for a name ranges from $275 to $325.

If you want to register your domain name as a trademark, this should form a separate application. Only registering a domain name makes it easy for competitors to use your name with only a different domain extension.
The USPTO should respond to your application within six months.

You can trademark a slogan if it is a key part of your brand's identity. You must use a slogan the right way for it to qualify for a trademark. Including your slogan in all magazine ads is fair trademark use. Simply printing it on a T-shirt is not. An attorney can advise you what counts as fair use.

  • Why can't I copyright my logo?

Copyrights are usually reserved for artistic works like paintings and novels. While there is likely artistic merit in your logo design, a trademark is a typically the best choice. That's because trademarks protect elements used in commerce to identify brands, such as brand names, distinctive words or phrases, symbols, logos, or other design elements. Copyrights don't have to be used in commerce, but trademarks do.

Your logo could be protected by copyright if it's very complex. Similarly, a brand name could be protected by copyright if it features very fanciful language. Consult an intellectual property lawyer to learn whether this applies to you.

  • Where should I put my trademark symbol?

There is no set place the trademark symbols must sit. However, most businesses place them in the top right corners of their logos.

  • Do registered trademarks on logos expire?

A registered trademark doesn't have a set issue time. However, you must continue to use the ® symbol for the registered trademark to remain current.

  • How should I protect other aspects of my business?

Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are all good ways to protect parts of your business, otherwise known as intellectual property. A patent protects others from making or profiting from an invention for a set period, usually 20 years. As with trademarks, you can search for and register patents on the USPTO website. You can also search using other tools like Trademark Explorer or Corsearch.

A copyright protects literary, musical, artistic, dramatic, and some intellectual works, whether they're published or unpublished, online or offline. Copyright is secured on the work's creation and denoted by the copyright symbol © and its first year of publication. Registration isn't necessary but has some advantages like the ability to file lawsuits. Copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office for $35 online or between $50 and $65 by mail. There's no official site to search for copyrights, but any search engine can help you find whether something is copyrighted.

Apply for trademarks, patents, and copyrights as soon as possible. Start with national protection, then consider international protection as your business grows. Don't overlook assets like social media hashtags when seeking protection. Document who owns all trademarks, patents, and copyrights to avoid conflict later.

Keep information about pending patents and other applications secret. Make sure you only share sensitive information with trusted people that need to know. Create a formal contract listing all people with a stake in any pending patents and how the intellectual property will be divided. This ensures that no one takes more than their fair share. Also create documents, which state how third-parties, like licensees, will handle your intellectual property.

If you're concerned about protecting your logo, consult an intellectual property lawyer and post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers from UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.