What is Trademark Design?

A trademark design is any word or icon that represents a company's name, or its brands, products, or services.

Standards for Trademark Design

A company's trademark design must meet United States Patent and Trademark Office standards for uniqueness. The design cannot be too generic, and it cannot resemble a trademark applied for or registered by another company. If your company's design looks too much like another company's design, the trademark office will deny your trademark application.

Reasons to Consider Using Trademark Design

  • Registering your trademark gives you priority over its use and allows you to use it across the country. If you don't register the trademark, you can only use it in your industry and local area. If a company in another area or in a similar industry uses a design resembling yours, or one identical to it, you can't stop them.
  • If someone uses your trademarked design without your company's permission, you can sue that company for trademark infringement.
  • If a company outside the United States uses your trademarked design on its products, you can stop that company from importing its merchandise into the United States.

Examples — Registering a Logo

There are three ways to register a logo.

  • Copyrighting the logo.
  • Registering a trademark or a design.
  • Registering the logo as both a trademark and a design.

Logo Design Elements

  • Combined Mark: words and an image used as one design unit. Use words cleared for incorporation into the logo. You cannot use words someone already registered as a trademark. For example, Mercedes-Benz has a text and image logo.
  • Stylized Mark: words as described above presented with a stylized or elaborate font. Text-only logos include the eBay and Coca-Cola logos, and the Google and Yahoo! stylized words.
  • Device Mark: an image without words that must have a photo or drawing approved for use as a logo. You cannot use an image already registered as a trademark. Among the image-only symbols are the Nike Swoosh, McDonald's Golden Arches, and the Shell logo.

Common Mistakes

  • Don't assume that obtaining a copyright for your logo is enough. With a copyright, your design has some protection, but not enough. A registered trademark has a date attached to it. You have proof of when you began using the design. If someone uses your design after you obtained the trademark registration, you can sue them for trademark infringement. You do not have much recourse if all if you've only copyrighted your design.
  • If you have a trademark that uses a verbal (text) and non-verbal (image) design, you must convince the trademark office that you're combining two trademarked elements into one trademark design. You will need to show that your non-verbal design can stand alone as a logo without the use of text.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Trademark Registrations: Why are there so many? You must register all the components of a trademark. It's not enough to register the text and omit everything else. Register the stylized font, which is often unique to the product, and the graphics.
  • Fair Use: What is it? Trademark fair use is using a company's registered trademark in a way that doesn't imply that the company is endorsing your company's products or the actions of your company. It is different from copyright fair use.
  • Filing: What are the steps to filing a trademark design? Register your trademark design with the trademark office in one of two ways.
    • Use the online Trademark Electronic Application System.
    • Use an online trademark service.
    The application, which generally takes several months for registration approval, must include:
    • Drawings of your trademark — if other than black and white, list all colors and specify where each one appears.
    • Trademark application filing fee.
  • Trademark Adviser: Should I work with one?There are lawyers who specialize in assisting clients with all aspects of business development. Applying for a design trademark might look easy on the surface, but the process is complex. Using the services of an attorney who has experience helping companies through the process will save you time, money, and a lot of grief. Post your legal request here and UpCounsel can help you find attorneys ready to help.

Steps to File

You can register your trademark design with the USPTO by using the online Trademark Electronic Application System or an online trademark service. The process for registering a design trademark is the same as for any other type of trademark.