Registering a trademark is an important step toward protecting your intellectual property and securing your business. But understanding how trademark law works might not be clear for the average business owner. The application process is detailed, and not everyone comes out of it understanding what protections they’ve earned. That’s why working with a professional trademark attorney can be incredibly helpful.
In particular, the difference between obtaining a state trademark registration vs. a federal trademark registration might seem vague. At a glance, they seem incredibly similar, if not the same. However, you’ll find that state and federal law can differ wildly depending on your circumstances. With this crash course, you can start thinking about which is right for you.
Benefits of a Trademark
A trademark serves to give you protection from infringement on your brand. It helps to establish a legal basis for the reputation you cultivate, setting you apart from the crowd and helping your customers find you. If anyone attempts to benefit from your established brand without your permission, a trademark gives you legal standing to stop them. In that way, a trademark isn’t just a legal status but also an investment.
As a company grows, its brand can become a major factor in its valuation. Take a minute to think about any of the major tech or entertainment brands, and you’ll start to get an idea of why a trademark is money well spent. Depending on the size and scale of your business, your trademark needs may be different. This is where you want to consider a state trademark registration vs. a federal trademark registration.
State Trademark Registrations
In order to obtain a state trademark registration, you need to file an application with your respective trademark office. These applications typically require a sample of what you want trademarked, as well as a small filing fee. This fee varies from state to state but is generally less expensive than the cost of a federal trademark registration. Obtaining a state trademark can also be faster than a federal one, although it’s not a guaranteed thing.
One of the benefits of having a state trademark registration is establishing a set date as to when you started using your trademark. Technically, just by using a specific mark in your business, you already have some protections through a common law trademark. A common law trademark is, however, extremely limited and only really enforceable in the immediate area where it’s used. A state trademark offers slightly wider protections, and having the date you started using your trademark on file can prove invaluable if you find someone infringing on your brand—or if someone else is accusing you of infringing on theirs.
There are a few drawbacks when it comes to using a state trademark registration instead of a federal trademark registration. For example, since every state office operates a little differently, you may find your protections vary depending on where you are. Additionally, a state trademark registration does not afford you the right to use the federal trademark symbol, ®. Instead, you’ll only be able to use ™ or SM, indicating “service mark.”
But the major drawback of a state trademark registration, as is likely obvious, is the fact that it only applies in the state you register it. Should you wish to use your trademark across state lines, your trademark won’t extend beyond them. If you have no plans to expand in the immediate future, it may not be necessary for you to spend the extra money on a federal trademark registration. If you think you might need federal protection sooner rather than later, though, it’s a good idea to get the ball rolling right away.
Federal Trademark Registration
A federal trademark registration grants you protection throughout the United States, affording you uniform protection across state lines. Federal trademarks are administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. A federal trademark registration will afford you a greater degree of protection, but applying for one can prove more challenging and time-consuming than a state one. You can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for an application fee, depending on what the goods or services your trademark represents. The application itself can also be complex, requiring detailed information about the mark you want to register and how you use it.
Once you submit your application, it gets sent to an attorney to examine the details. If they find any problems with your application, you’ll need to help resolve them before your application can continue to move forward. For this reason, hiring a trademark attorney to help put together the application and keep things moving along is highly recommended. All of this adds up to months of work to get your application over the finish line, it’s a wise investment.
Amount of protection
When it comes to the level of protection offered by a state trademark registration vs. a federal trademark registration, the difference is clear. A federal trademark registration offers you protection throughout the country, as well as access to more options to further establish your brand. If you find someone infringing on your trademark, you have the right to bring a lawsuit in federal court. Your trademark right gives you the legal presumption of ownership, meaning all you need to prove your ownership in court is your registration certificate.
It also enters you into the USPTO database, providing public notice to anyone who may be searching for similar ones. Finally, it gives you the right to use the ® mark with your trademark, establishing your trademark’s registration clearly to anyone who sees it.
What’s Right for Your Business?
You know your brand better than anyone. You know how wide your reach is now, and you know where you want to go in the future. When it comes to whether you should pursue a state trademark vs. federal trademark, it depends on what you think you need to best protect your brand, though often, federal trademark registration is the best option. If you still have questions, it’s a good idea to seek out an expert opinion from Berkeley Law & Technology Group. With the right plan of action, you can secure your brand for years to come.