As a small business owner, you know branding is everything — and your logo is a crucial part of your company’s visual brand.
To stay unique and recognizable within your market, you need to protect your logo with a registered trademark. But what kind of trademark do you need, and how do you go about getting one?
We know the world of patents, trademarks, and copyrights can be confusing. That’s why we created this guide to help you on your way to trademarking your logo and establishing a strong, unique company brand.
Keep reading, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about trademarking your small business logo.
What Is A Trademark?
A trademark is how you claim ownership of intellectual property (IP). Intellectual property is a broad term that encompasses everything from trade secrets to new inventions. But here, we’re talking about a specific kind of IP — your company’s logo or the visual symbol representing your brand.
A trademark prevents other people from using your logo, either unintentionally, because they don’t know it’s yours, or on purpose, to poach your customers and try to impersonate your company. This is known as infringement, which you should always prevent.
The phrase ‘trademark’ is often used interchangeably with ‘copyright,’ but they aren’t the same thing. Copyright applies to created works, like movies, books, or audio, while trademarks are exclusively for a company’s brand elements, like logos, taglines, and business names. In addition to your logo, you can (and likely should) trademark your company’s name and any slogans or phrases that are important to your branding. In this article, we focus on how to trademark your logo, but many of these same processes can also apply to those kinds of intellectual property.
Do You Need A Trademark?
You don’t always need a trademarked logo — and in fact, you might already have one without knowing it! We’ll get into why in a minute, but first, let’s break down the main reasons to trademark your logo.
- If your logo is trademarked, you’re the only person that can use it — although the geographical area you have control over depends on what kind of trademark you choose.
- What’s more, you don’t just have to ask people to stop infringing on your logo if it’s trademarked — you’re allowed to take legal action to stop them and collect money for damages inflicted on your brand.
What Kind of Trademark Do You Need?
There are a few different types of trademarks, offering varying degrees of protection. Here’s what you need to know about your options.
Common Law Trademarks
If you’re the first person to use your logo, then you’ve already got this kind of trademark, without needing to do anything at all. However, it’s not the strongest option, because it only applies to the specific community where you’re doing business. A common law trademark comes into effect the first time you use your logo commercially, like on your website or business cards.
This kind of trademark protects you from infringement, but only in the state where you registered — which hopefully, is where you’re actually operating! It might not sound like much, but if you’re running a small business that only serves one region, and you have no plans to go national, it’s probably all you need.
This is the gold standard for trademarking your logo. No one else, anywhere in the United States, will be able to copy or use it without putting themselves at risk of legal action. You’ll need this kind of trademark if you serve customers in multiple states, or if most of your business takes place online.
Can Any Logo Be Trademarked?
Actually, no. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) doesn’t approve every single request to trademark a logo — to be successful, your logo must be unique, recognizable, and highly distinct to your company and its brand. That means your logo can’t be too simple or generic. If your company sells flower seeds, a basic picture of a daisy just isn’t going to get approved.
Make your logo unique to your brand. Incorporate your business’s name, create an original symbol, or use imagery that’s not connected to what you offer. For instance, Starbucks’ famous mermaid, or the Shell Oil seashell.
This is the time to get creative! The more memorable, unusual, and above all unique your logo is, the stronger your trademark application will be.
How to Easily Trademark Your Logo
To trademark your logo, you’ll need to apply with the US Patent and Trademark Office — but there’s a little more to it than that.
However, it’s not an incredibly complex process, and it’s well within reach for most business owners. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown.
- Decide if you’ll enlist the help of an attorney to trademark your logo. While you can certainly do it on your own, working with an experienced lawyer takes the time commitment off your plate, and you know the job will get done right.
- Then, you’ll need to make sure your logo isn’t too similar to anything else that’s already in use. The USPTO offers this tool to search its database, or you can hire a professional trademark researcher.
- Next, you’re ready to file your trademark application online, through USPTO’s TEAS system. You’ll also need to file an intent-to-use form, describing exactly how and where you’ll use the logo. If that purpose ever changes, you’ll need to complete and submit another intent-to-use form.
- At this point, you’ll also need to pay up — applying to trademark your logo should cost somewhere from $300-$500, excluding the fees of any lawyers or professionals you decide to hire.
- Now, it’s time to wait for a response from the patent office. If it’s approved right away, you’ll get a notification informing that your trademark is registered — but if it’s not, all is not lost. If the office rejects your application, they’ll let you know why, and give you 6 months to fix those issues and resubmit.
- Once that application is successful, your rights to your logo are secured — congrats!
Building Your Brand
Trademarking your logo might feel like a pile of tedious paperwork. But it’s these kinds of tasks that help you build up a strong business, and plan a bright future for your brand.
When you’re caught up in the daily grind of being a small business owner, it can be easy to feel drained or overwhelmed by all the administrative and marketing work it takes to set your business up for success.
Luckily, we’re here to help you — and we know small businesses better than anyone. To get regular entrepreneurship and small business tips right to your inbox, sign up for Olly Olly’s newsletter today!
Article by Genevieve Michael
Genevieve Michaels is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada, focusing on B2B marketing, tech, and software-related content.
She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from The University of British Columbia.