Whether you’re just starting your ecommerce store or you’ve been running it for years, you should be considering trademark status for your business name (and slogan if you have one).
Doing so protects your enterprise from others operating under your name.
And, the process is easy to accomplish when you follow the steps outlined in this primer on ecommerce trademarking.
The Basic Steps
Definition of a Trademark
Before we get into detail on the steps, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says: “A trademark (or service mark) includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”
Trademarks also fall into two basic categories (or levels of protection): registered and unregistered.
A registered trademark is listed on the U.S. Principal Register and provides a legal presumption of ownership.
Registering your trademark virtually guarantees you’ll win any dispute with those who would seek to appropriate your name for their businesses. It also comes into play when you want to operate in other countries under your name.
An unregistered trademark basically warns others you are willing to protect your name should a duplication situation arise, but has very few teeth in a dispute.
To employ an unregistered trademark, all you do is put the TM (or SM) symbol next to your name, symbol, logo, and/or slogan and get ready to go to battle if someone else decides to use it too.
In most cases, you’ll probably win the dispute if you can prove you used the TM symbol first with the identifying element in question.
So, Is Registration Necessary?
In most cases, the answer is no. If you’re a small business and your plans are to stay small, adding the TM symbol after the identifying elements you want to protect in your eCommerce theme and all other places your name is used in business will probably suffice.
However, if you’re doing something so good others are sure to try to copy it; or if you are growing fast and/or seeking investors, you should definitely register your trademark.
Other situations in which you’ll be glad you registered include applying for a business loan, selling your business or developing promotions with an advertising agency.
As you might expect, before you can apply to register a trademark, you have to confirm the one you want is available to be dedicated to your purposes.
You also have to ensure the name you want to use is readily distinguishable from other trademarked names already employed in your industry.
For example, if you’re producing software and plan to call your company “Macrosoft,” your application will be denied.
Similarly, if your name can be construed as a generic term for whatever you’re doing, you’ll have to find another one to register.
You can run a search at the Trademark Search System to see if the name for which you want to register a trademark is good to go. Which actually, is a good thing to do, even if you’re planning to use an unregistered trademark.
After all, you want to make sure you’re not stepping on someone’s toes who might to decide to kick you when they realize you’ve done so.
Registration fees vary depending upon a variety of circumstances but typically do not exceed $325. To learn more about trademarking your ecommerce business name, visit the USPTO’s website.
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