Updated June 22, 2020:

A trademarked logo is a company logo that has been trademarked and receives protection through the trademark laws.

What Is a Trademark?

A trademark is used to protect intellectual property from infringement. A trademark is a name, word, logo, or symbol that represents a company. Time and money are spent developing a company's logo, and it is therefore important to protect.

A company's logo is representative of the brand. The logo is also recognizable by customers, making it important to also protect its reputation.

A trademark is not required, nor is it always necessary. For small, regional companies, a trademarked brand or logo is not necessary. A trademark automatically begins with first use and depends upon regional boundaries. This is only true if someone else is not using the trademark. Even for small, regional companies, there are benefits to trademarking a logo.

Who Owns the Logo's Trademark?

Ownership comes with registration and use. The logo's designer is rarely the owner of the trademark. The trademark owner is most often the business owner.

Why Is Trademarking a Logo Important?

There are many benefits to registering your logo for a trademark. There is no requirement to register your logo as a trademark, but there are benefits for doing so.

  • Priority: Registering your logo as a trademark gives you the priority to use that mark. If the logo isn't trademarked, you're only entitled to use it in your geographic area. Without registration, someone in a nearby community can use a similar or even the exact same logo, and it's unlikely there's anything you can do to stop them, even if you used the logo first. Someone else using your logo can diminish the value of your brand and your products. If your logo is registered as a trademark, you're able to stop someone else from using it. 
  • Lawsuit: When your logo is registered with a trademark, you have the right to sue anyone who uses the logo without authorization. In some cases, simply having the logo trademarked can be enough to win the court case. In some cases, it's even possible to bring criminal charges against someone for improper use of a trademarked logo.
  • Money: If you do take someone to court for trademark infringement, having a trademark also allows you to be able to collect money for damages.
  • Import of Foreign Goods: A registered trademark also allows you to stop the import of foreign goods that would infringe upon your trademark. This benefit also helps to prevent your brand from being diminished.
  • Foreign Registration: Once your logo is trademarked in the United States, you're able to register your trademark in other countries. This makes it possible to extend your business and sell your product in foreign markets.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of registering a logo for a trademark can vary widely. There are two main costs:

  • Trademark application 
  • Attorney fees

If you choose to complete the application for a trademark without the help of an attorney, the application fees will cost approximately $500. These fees are non-refundable. The amount of fees paid may fluctuate if there is an extension or late payment or if reapplication must be paid.

How Long Will the Trademark Application Process Take?

The amount of time it takes to trademark a logo can vary greatly from case to case. The length of the process varies because some applications will need to be reexamined or changed to ensure uniqueness.

On average, you should receive your trademark six to nine months after filing your application. This process can take years to complete, but this is rare. Approximately six months after filing, you'll receive a receipt with a serial number. This serial number can be used to track your application.

The simplest and fastest way to submit an application for a trademark is online at the United States Patent and Trademark Office's website. If you're registering your company name, it should take about 90 minutes online. A designed logo could be a more complicated process since the logo has more details.

Levels of Trademark Protection

Common Law Trademark

First use of a mark creates a common law trademark. You don't have to register a logo for a trademark to use it.

Common law trademark can easily be applied to your company's logo. As soon as you begin advertising your product, with your logo, you'll receive common law trademark protection for your logo. A trademark begins at the first commercial use. This would include the use of your logo in an advertisement.

The common law trademark is limited by geography, giving them minimal protection. It isn't required, but to give your logo the most protection possible, it is beneficial to register your logo as a trademark with the USPTO.

SM or TM

A common law trademark or unregistered trademark should be marked either with ™ or SM marks. The ™ mark is used for product-based trademarks. These trademarks may be unregistered or going through the application process. The SM mark is used for service-based trademark which are unregistered or currently going through the application process.

The ™ and SM marks inform other businesses that you own your logo. A common law trademark offers limited protection. To receive national protection for your trademark, your trademark must be registered with the USPTO. This registration also provides more protection in the case of a lawsuit. Your trademark registration and application will provide a date of first use. This is important in case of a lawsuit challenging who used a mark first.

State Level Trademark

A state trademark offers trademark protection only in the state where the trademark is registered. For companies that conduct business in just one state, this is usually enough protection.

Federal Trademark

A federal trademark offers trademark protection nationally, across state lines. If your company is doing business in multiple states, the federal trademark offers a lot more benefit and protection. Online business likely fall into the category that needs federal trademark protection as the business will sell goods across state lines.

Trademarks that are federally registered receive these benefits:

  • Protection under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. This means that trademark owners can sue someone using a confusingly similar domain name.

  • Can stop the import of counterfeit goods and products that infringe upon a trademark.

  • Can receive international trademark protection.

  • An infringement lawsuit can be tried in a federal court, not just a state court.

  • The trademark is nationally recognized.

Trademark Opposition

If a trademark is published and the user has true intention to use the mark in commerce, the USPTO will issue a NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE about 12 weeks after the first use of the mark. If no party files an opposition or request to extend the time to oppose.

The USPTO puts out a publication of new trademarks. This publication gives trademark owners a chance to challenge any similar trademarks. If no party files an opposition or request to extend the time to oppose, the trademarks are issued a NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE after 12 weeks.

The trademark applicant then has six months from the NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE to:

  1. Use the mark in a commercial purpose and submit a statement of use

  2. Request an extension for six more months of time to file a statement of use

Trademarks and copyrights are often confused, but they aren't the same.

  • Copyright: A copyright is associated with creative works such as film, writing, audio, or computer programming. Material that is eligible for copyright must be fixed in a tangible medium. This means that others must be able to see it, it cannot be just an idea.
  • Trademark: A trademark is for symbols, words, phrases, or a combination of those. A trademark is used to protect one of these elements that represent a company or a brand and is used on signs, documents, and other materials for sale.

It is possible that a logo is actually eligible for both a trademark and a copyright. Many logos contain original artwork and are therefore eligible for a copyright. A trademark protects the entire logo and brand name from use by other companies.

The process of applying for a trademark or copyright is very simple. What complicates the process is making sure that your work is original and unique and yours to use and own.

Trademark Search

A trademark search should always be the first step before registering a trademark. A trademark search ensures that no one else is already using your logo or a similar logo. A search can be done on the United States Trademark Electronic Search System or TESS. This online database catalogs all registered trademarks.

Many people highly recommend hiring a trademark attorney or professional trademark researcher for this step in the process. Searching trademarks may seem simple, but there are special techniques to use.

Not only are you looking for a trademarked logo that's the same as yours, but ones that are similar. If your logo is too similar to someone else's it will not be approved for trademark. This includes misspellings and similar wordings.

Copyright Application Process:

  1. Go to copyright.gov .

  2. Fill out Form CO.

    • This form will ask for the name of the owner, the name of the creator, the nature of the copyright document.
  3. Upload a file for your logo.

  4. Pay the $35 fee for registration.

  5. Print out the confirmation.

  6. Your copyright is pending until you receive approval. Once approved, your copyright is effective as of the registration date.

Trademark Application Process:

  1. Complete a trademark search.

  2. Secure your rights.

  3. Submit an initial application at uspto.gov on the Trademark Electronic Application System or TEAS.

  4. Fill out the TEAS form for an initial application. Be sure to upload the file of your logo.

  5. Submit an "intent-to-use" form. This form states how and where the logo will be used. If other uses are added in the future, you must file a new "intent-to-use" form.

  6. Pay the fees. There will be a $325 fee for the trademark application and a $50 fee per class of usage.

Secure Your Rights

For protection at a local level, all that you must do is use your trademark. If you plan to use your logo throughout the state or nationally, you need to register for a trademark to receive protection.

Statewide protection can be approved by the Secretary of State in your state. National protection must be approved with a trademark from the USPTO.

Part of trademark registration is use of the trademark or intent-to-use. You can begin using your logo prior to submitting an application for a trademark.

Initial Application

Your initial application can be submitted online at the USPTO's website.

Trademark Watch

To make sure that no one is using your logo or similar logos, you can use a trademark watch service. This type of service searches for logos that may be infringing upon your trademark. This is an optional step in the process, but can be very beneficial for protecting a logo and brand.

Final Version

Before submitting your trademark application, be sure that you have the final version of the logo. You should only apply with the final version of your logo because changes cannot be made once the application has been submitted. Minor changes might be acceptable, but only with proper documentation, submission of fees, and acceptance from the USPTO.

If the logo does change after the submission of your trademark application, you may have to submit an entirely new application for the new logo.

Logo Colors

When submitting your trademark application, consider whether you want to submit a color logo or a black and white logo. Many businesses do choose to register their logo in color, but there are reasons this might not be a good idea.

If your logo is trademarked in color, you cannot change the color without applying for a new trademark or amending your trademark application. The color is important to the trademark.

What Should I Trademark?

There are a few basics that may be obvious choices for trademark, such as the logo and business name, but there are others that may be less obvious.

Another concern that many new businesses face is the financial obligation when applying for a trademark. Each element that is trademarked must go through the application process, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

The question these businesses need to answer is "what is most important to trademark first?" Often, the most important thing to trademark first is the company name, even before you trademark the company logo. There are a variety of reasons for this:

  • Two Different Registrations

It may not be obvious at first, but the company logo and company name are not the same, even if the company name is included on the logo. For trademark purposes, the name and logo must be registered separately.

The company name is considered a standard character mark, which protects the name itself. This trademark doesn't protect any font, design, or coloring. This trademark prevents anyone from using your company name.

The trademark for the company logo will protect the logo in entirety. The shape, orientation, design, font, words, and sometimes the colors. The goal of this trademark is to prevent others from using your logo or something that's similar enough to cause confusion.

If you have the time and money to register both, you should. If not, the most important aspect of your business to trademark is the name. A trademark registration will cost anywhere between $500 and $1500, depending on attorney fees.

  • More Likely to Change

This might be hard to hear, but the company name is more important to trademark because the company logo is more likely to change than the company name. This is often because the first company logo is designed by the company owner, who may not be proficient in logo design.

Later on, it's likely that the company will have the logo redesigned. If the logo was trademarked, a redesign would mean applying for a new trademark. This might be tough to hear as many company owners are attached to their logo, but it's often true.

When looking at this decision, ask yourself, "At this point in the business, would it make sense to litigate for logo trademark infringement?" If the answer isn't "yes," then the logo is not the first priority for trademark.

If another company does begin using your logo, simply redesign it and start building brand in the new logo.

  • More Valuable

It truly comes down to the fact that your company name is more valuable than the company logo. The company name is more versatile when branding and advertising than a logo. A logo is only protected by the trademark in its exact form. The company name is always protected.

The quality of your logo and the cost of enforcing a trademark are practical considerations that militate against registering just your logo. The primary legal consideration is this: your company name offers quite a bit more protection.

  • Use of ®

Once your trademark application is approved, you're ready to use the registered trademark symbol. The ® symbol can be used with your trademarked logo or name to show that it has been registered as a trademark.

It is illegal to use the ® if the company name or logo isn't registered as a trademark. If you've applied for a trademark but have not yet been approved, you can use the ™ symbol.

You can use the symbol next to your logo, no matter what color it is printed in, as long as your logo is trademarked in black and white, not color.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a trademark?

A trademark is a form of legal protection given to certain types of intellectual property to protect against unauthorized use of the intellectual property.

  • What should I trademark?

The most important business element to trademark is your business name. As soon as you're sure what your business name is, it's important to begin the trademark application process.

If you have any other questions about the process of trademarking a logo or just want help with a trademark application, consider posting a job to set up a meeting with one of the trademark attorneys on UpCounsel's website.