A common misunderstanding the local business realm is whether or not companies need to federally register their trademarks. And the answer is, not always.
There are three levels of trademarks that can protect a brand even even if it is not a federally registered trademark.
The basic level of protection is a common law trademark. This automatically attaches to any symbol used in commerce in association with a particular product or service. It gives you protection within your geographic location and areas of natural expansion. The strength of protection received depends on multiple factors, including length of use and business notability.
The next level is state trademark registration. This comes with a small cost and gives you protection within the state that you register, rather than just your local geographic location.
The greatest level of protection is a Federal Trademark, granting you nationwide protection. It comes with a greater cost ($275 or $325 depending on the trademark) and has the advantage of putting the nation “on notice” that you own the mark, meaning that no one can use your trademark and claim that they didn’t know you owned the rights. You also gain the ability to bring a federal claim against anyone using your mark, or a very similar mark, without your permission.
The Federal Trademark, however, comes along with certain burdens of protection, such as the requirement that you actively monitor your mark and attempt to stop all acts of infringement that you become aware of. Fail to do this and you may lose out on your federal protection.
It is important to know what level of protection is adequate for your brand. You can always play it safe and go for federal registration, but in cases of locally owned and operated businesses who may be strapped for capital, or highly noted and long-standing businesses, federal registration may not add that much protection to what you are already receiving.
Jamal Jackson, JD/MBA is a licensed attorney in the State of Illinois. He is the Managing Attorney of Jackson Corporate Law Offices, P.C. and the Co-Founder of Initiative Consulting Group, LLC. Jamal has a passion for helping entrepreneurs navigate the murky legal waters of business ownership. Contact Jamal at JJackson@JacksonCounsel.com and connect with Jamal further on Linkedin and on Twitter.