At some point, every business owner asks if they should file a trademark application. In the U.S., businesses get common law rights to their name as soon as they start selling products or services. That means that the company does not have to formally register their name at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, the common law only works in the company’s specific geographic location and is not very useful when it comes to legal battles in court. Therefore, it is best to apply for a trademark early.
When you apply to become an LLC or corporation, you will get a notification if anyone has trademarked the name in your state. However, you should also do a broader search in the other 49 states to make sure that no other companies are currently using your brand name. You can be ordered to stop operating under your company name if you are infringing on someone else’s name, regardless if it was intentional or not.
You can file a trademark at the USPTO for as low as $325 or use online services, such as Trademarkia and LegalZoom, that will charge a small amount on top of the federal filing costs. It is best to hire an attorney to help handle your trademark because it will have a 50% greater chance of being approved by the USPTO, according to a study from the University of North Carolina.
Possessing a trademark implies your company is ready to be marketed. If you indeed are prepared to open for business, you should obtain an “intent-to-use” trademark; once it’s approved, the USPTO gives you six months to use it in commerce. If you need more time to do so, you can apply for a six-month extension. This method secures your trademark even if your business is unprepared.