A logo or trademark is a word, slogan, image, or logo used to connect products or services with their maker or provider. Customers should be able to use a trademark to identify the source of a product easily. For example, the Nike swoosh symbol makes the company's sneakers instantly recognizable. Here's some more information you need to know about logos and trademarks. 

Trademark Rules

In the United States, trademark ownership rights start when a person or company starts using a trademark for commercial purposes. Your logo will be trademarked as soon as you start using it to advertise your product and the public recognizes it and your company. The person or business using a trademark owns it, so business owners usually own trademarks, not logo designers. A trademark is infringed on when another company uses branding that's similar enough to confuse consumers; that business must stop using the similar trademark.

Trademark vs. Copyright

Trademarks only protect the things that identify a business, like slogans or logos. A copyright, on the other hand, is similar to a trademark, but it covers works of art like books, paintings, and drawings. Many business owners make sure their logos have both forms of protection. Trademarks are easier to defend and protect than copyrights, especially since there's no registration requirement for trademarks in the United States. They protect things like names, colors, typefaces, and designs that copyrights don't cover.

The Benefits of Registering for a Trademark

The federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act protects registered trademarks, letting trademark owners sue people or companies using identical or confusingly similar trademarks. Registering with the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO isn't mandatory, but it offers a lot of benefits:

  • Confiscation of any imported goods that are counterfeit or infringing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Trademark protection in other countries
  • The exclusive right to use, produce, and profit from the logo, slogan, or image
  • The right to sue for infringement in federal instead of state court.

Each trademark name, logo, or slogan should be registered as a standard character mark, a stylized or design mark, or a sound mark. Company logos are usually stylized/design marks, with specific font styles, sizes, and color.

What's Eligible for Trademark?

The USPTO approves hundreds of thousands of trademark applications every year, but not all trademarks are eligible. They can't be:

  • Offensive
  • Misleading
  • Too similar to existing trademarks

The strongest trademarks are the ones that are protected most easily by the law. They're distinct and distinguishable to the public, and they tend to be fanciful or arbitrary. For example, an invented word like Roomba or a name like Apple that isn't related to your product will be strongest. You may not be able to get more descriptive names trademarked. For example, a pizza restaurant called The Pizza Place wouldn't be unique enough for a trademark.

Copyright can't protect the name of your business or the colors and design of your logo. Most logos aren't creative enough to be copyrighted, but there are lots of ornate and artistic ones with trademarks and copyrights.

When and Where to Register a Trademark 

You should start registering your trademark as soon as possible. It won't be officially registered until the USPTO reviews and approves your application. Take advantage of all the benefits of registration as quickly as possible by submitting an intent-to-use application before your product or business launches. State registration creates a public record of a company's use of a trademark in the state. With Federal registration, your trademark will be listed in a Federal database of registered trademarks.

Why Some Businesses Don't Register Trademarks

If you're not sure how long your business will last, applying for trademark registration may not be worth the time and filing fees. Most trademarks take about 10 months to be approved, and even basic applications have a $325 filing fee. Also, you might want to change your logo in the future. Only the version that's registered is legally protected, and using variations could weaken the registered trademark's rights. If you don't plan on using your logo long term, then there's no reason to register.

If you need help with logos and trademarks, you can post your legal need or post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on 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 companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.