Most entrepreneurs know that one of the smartest moves they can make to protect the assets of their small business is to file for a trademark. After all, this mark keeps your intellectual property — including unique logos, designs, and phrases — from being compromised by competitors and ensures that you alone have the exclusive rights to use it.
However, some entrepreneurs may find themselves wondering if there is a “right time” to register a trademark. What if you’re on a time crunch and need to use the mark now? If you know you’ll use the mark sometime in the future for your products or services, should you file now or wait? If you’re still trying to figure out a timeline for your trademark, here are some of the most popular filing options available to small business owners.
If you haven’t used the mark yet, but want to ASAP
As soon as entrepreneurs incorporate their business, they begin looking at everything else they need to protect their brand while further establishing it as unique in its field. However, the downside to moving forward without a trademark is that the unregistered mark is quite vulnerable. During this time, entrepreneurs can opt for early filing to protect and defend their trademark and vice versa — filing early to make sure that your mark isn’t accidentally infringing on another registration.
If you haven’t used the mark yet, but want to later in the future
Let’s say you own a stationery shop, but aren’t ready to open up your doors to the public and sell your products. You know you will be ready soon, but not right now. In this case, the USPTO advises filing an “intent-to-use” trademark application. This filed document allows the registration to be issued once you start selling your products or services.
Aside from intent-to-use, entrepreneurs may also file their trademark based on bona fide intent. Let’s go back to that stationery shop for a minute and revisit your products. Currently, you just have samples and not a full inventory of goods established. Bona fide intent means that the mark, while not quite market ready, is more than an idea. In order to use the mark, your samples would be classified under that category.
If you have already started using the mark
Already started using your mark on your offerings? Don’t worry — you can still protect it! The USPTO recommends filing under “use-in-commerce” basis if the mark used is in connection with your goods and services listed in your application. Your filing will also include an example that shows how you use the mark in commerce. For example, at the stationery shop that trademark would be visible on your store displays, product packaging, and any tags and labels associated with the store.
What happens after you’ve filed? A federally registered trademark can last forever, so long as it remains in use and you file the appropriate maintenance documents to keep the mark in compliance. The consequences your company faces if these documents aren’t filed are severe — with your registration cancelled completely. Be sure to file these forms by their deadlines to further protect and uphold your brand well into the future!
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.