Companies spend years and devote considerable resources to building their unique brand identities. Strong brands lead to consumer recognition and trust, and a business with effective branding can more easily distinguish itself in a crowded industry. However, companies must also take steps to protect elements that contribute to their branding. Unauthorized and unlawful use of brand elements can result in market confusion and damage to the exploited brand.
Our Santa Rosa trademark lawyers are ready to help your business protect its brand through proactive registration and strategic litigation. Our team at Merrill, Arnone & Jones, LLP has over 40 years of combined legal experience and is extensively familiar with trademark registration and enforcement procedures at the state and federal levels. We are committed to fighting for you and can guide your company through the process of enforcing your registered trademarks.
What Are Trademarks and How Do They Work?
Trademarks are brand names. A trademark specifically protects a unique name, slogan, logo, or symbol that is used to signify your business, its products and services, and its brand. Consumers typically rely on trademarked elements to identify trusted products, services, and companies.
Note that trademarks are distinct from patents and copyrights. Patents specifically protect new inventions, while copyrights safeguard artistic and literary works – the expressions of ideas.
A qualifying element automatically receives trademark protection once it is created and used. For example, if your company creates a logo for one of its products, that logo will automatically gain trademark protection once the logo is used to promote the product publicly.
Formally registering your trademarkable elements is always advisable, as doing so will provide your company and its brand elements with enhanced protection. Our Santa Rosa trademark attorneys can guide you through the registration process.
Registering your trademarkable brand elements can help you more easily enforce brand protection. While unique elements do you inherently have trademark protection, you will have to meet a high legal standard to enforce your ownership of an unregistered trademark. Specifically, you will need to indisputably prove you were the first to use the trademarkable element and that you have continued to frequently use it to market your company and/or its products and services.
By registering a trademark, you avoid having to prove you own the trademark. These registrations are handled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
To begin the process, you will first need to search and clear the desired trademark. In other words, you need to check to make sure no one else is using the trademark you wish to register or a confusingly similar element.
Next, you will have to specify whether you are already using the trademarkable element or whether you intend to use it in the near future. In the case of the latter, the USPTO will issue a “Notice of Allowance” when your application is approved. This will give you a limited amount of time to start using the trademark, and you will need to promptly provide proof that you have used the trademark in a manner that reflects what was included in your application.
Your application will need to include a description or (if necessary) drawing of the mark and how it will be used. Generally, trademark protection will only extend to your industry.
If your trademark application is approved, details of the registration will be published by the USPTO. Interested parties will have 30 days to object to the registration if they believe the trademark is too similar to an existing mark. These disputes will be adjudicated in a court-like proceeding.
Once a trademark registration has been granted, protection remains in effect for ten years. Trademarks can typically be renewed indefinitely so long as you can prove you continue to use the protected element.
The state of California also maintains its own trademark registry. Registering a trademark at the state level is typically more inexpensive than doing so at the federal level, but it provides more limited security. Businesses that operate exclusively in California may benefit from state-level trademark registrations, but companies will only be protected from infringements that occur within the state. To receive countrywide trademark protections, you will need to register with the USPTO.
State-level registration can be advantageous if a trademark cannot be sought at the federal level. The state of California generally allows the registration of cannabis industry-related trademarks, for example, while the USPTO does not. We can provide you with additional guidance in this area.
Trademark Enforcement and Litigation
When you trademark an element, you gain the exclusive right to use that element to market your product, service, or brand so long as the trademark remains valid. Trademark infringement occurs when another company steals your trademarked element to market its products, services, or brand. Infringement can also occur if another firm deliberately uses a confusingly similar element that exploits and profits off your brand.
Instances of trademark infringement can do serious damage to your company’s brand and must be taken extremely seriously. If you do not fiercely enforce your trademarks, you run the risk of losing them when they come up for renewal. You must pursue legal action against any party that infringes on your trademarks. Depending on the extent of the violation, you may be able to recover damages from the infringing party if you can establish you suffered harm as a result of the infringement.
Our Santa Rosa trademark lawyers are committed to helping California businesses protect their intellectual property. We can help you enforce your trademarks and manage all types of intellectual property litigation. Our team at Merrill, Arnone & Jones, LLP can also assist you with the registration process and can represent you in any disputes over similar marks.