As the primary visual synonymous with your business, your company logo is perhaps your most important piece of branding. It is a unique graphic that sets you apart from everybody else, and, in time, can grow into a culturally iconic motif with a life of its own.
Therefore, protecting it is vital. As with all your company's intellectual property, this means taking legal steps to ensure that nobody copies, imitates or plagiarises your design, and holding anybody who flouts these protections liable for litigation.
Knowing how to trademark a logo is the first step in this process. To help, we've compiled a quick guide on the primary steps you need to take, as well as the things you need to consider before submitting any paperwork.
Do You Need to Trademark Your Logo?
In the vast majority of legal jurisdictions, it is not necessary to get a logo trademarked. However, if you are serious about protecting your business and preserving the integrity of your design – especially if you paid a lot for it – then it is better to be safe than sorry. It also provides you with grounds on which to take legal action if somebody copies, or outright steals, your design.
Another benefit of registering a logo is that it can be used across geographical borders. In many cases, if a logo is not adequately trademarked, it can only be used within the company's legal jurisdiction, in order to prevent infringement on similar brands in countries that you are exporting to. Of course, this works both ways, with a registered trademark enabling you to stop the import of foreign goods that could likely infringe upon your company's logo, too.
It's also worth noting that, before you submit any legal paperwork, it's vital you are happy with your chosen design. If you later decide that you don't like the logo, or you want to change it, then you will have to trademark it again.
How Do You Trademark Your Logo?
In most cases, trademarking a logo is a fairly straightforward process, provided your design is unique and doesn't contradict any standards or regulatory practices unique to your jurisdiction. The process may differ depending on where you choose to register your logo, but ultimately, the overarching process is usually the same.
Here are some of the typical steps you will need to follow:
1. Ensure the Logo is Unique
Once you are entirely sure that your logo represents the values and the visual identity of your company and its products or services, the first step is to ensure that you are not infringing on anybody else's design.
Depending on how you arrived at your design, this could be relatively straightforward; if, for instance, you hired a professional studio to create your motif, then it is likely that this would already have been researched. However, if you designed it yourself on Pixlr, you need to conduct a proper check.
Luckily, most jurisdictions keep a database of government-registered logos for this exact purpose. If you are planning to trademark your logo in the US, for instance, then you can view all currently registered logos in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database. Alternatively, you could check your relevant regional database first, and then visualise your idea. This could save you time further down the road, as you (or the designers you hire) could be committing time, resources and energy to a concept that has already been done.
Also, make sure that your logo is not offensive (or could be construed as offensive) in any way. Not only is this a bad idea from a branding perspective, but it will also likely lead to delays and difficulties with your relevant government agency. Try not to confuse or mislead consumers with your design, either, as this too will decrease your chances of approval.
2. Select the Right Kind of Trademark
In most regions, there is more than one kind of trademark available for this purpose. For instance, in the US, the following types are available:
- Local – Aimed at small, locally-focused businesses
- State – Aimed at medium-sized businesses who may trade on a regional level and potentially have more than one branch
- Federal – Aimed at larger businesses that operate on a national level and will likely run several branches
The different levels of trademark protection available will vary depending on your country, but the US system is a good indicator of the various types that are usually available. Note, too, that usually, the more significant the trademark, the more complex the process will be; registering a federal logo, for instance, is particularly difficult and it is highly advisable to consult with a lawyer specialising in IP during the process.
Either way, ensure that you fully understand what kind of trademark you are applying for and in which locations you are covered before you proceed any further.
3. Define Your Logo's Meaning
In order for it to be approved, it's necessary to define what your logo symbolises. Indeed, this is an important part of the process; the more clearly you describe your goods or services, the more likely it is that your logo will be accepted for trademark.
In Europe, you can see definitions of these descriptions in the Harmonised Database of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), while in the US, the USPTO provides a manual with clear instructions.
4. Provide an Example of the Logo
At this stage, you need to provide the logo itself for approval. The body you will need to submit it to depends on your region, and will usually be an official government body, such as the USPTO in the US, or the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK. Most of these agencies provide clear submission instructions on their website, or you can contact them directly to explain the process. You shouldn't need an IP lawyer at this stage, but, as mentioned, if you are looking to obtain an EU-wide or federal trademark, it might be a good idea to arrange an initial consultation.
When submitting the logo, it's also a good idea to provide an example of the logo on the actual product (if your company runs a service rather than offers a physical product, then you can provide a mock-up of your website instead). This will enable your assessors to see your logo in context and can often work in your favour.
5. File the Application
As well as your logo, you will also need to submit a supporting application (again, the paperwork that you will need to submit will be available through your relevant office's website). Once this is complete, you will receive a unique ID number for your case; make sure you keep this reference number as you will need it to keep track of your application's progress.
It's likely that you will also have to pay several administrative fees, too. These should be outlined clearly on the application form, so ensure that you are able to provide payment.
6. Wait for an Answer
At this stage, all you can do is wait for an acceptance or a rejection. As mentioned above, you can check on the status of your application via your ID number, but generally, the waiting time can vary from between three to six months. As a guide, the USPTO sends a first response within around three months, while the EUIPO can take four to five months for a response.
If your application is accepted, you will then legally be allowed to use the small 'registered' logo within the area that your trademark covers. Note, too, that in most regions, trademarks expire. It should be made clear to you during the application process how long your prospective trademark is eligible for, but as a rough guide, trademarks have a five-year lifespan in the US and a 10-year lifespan in the EU. After this period, you usually need to apply for one or more specific 'continual use' permits, such as the Trademark Declaration of Continued Use and Trademark Renewal in the US.
Do you have any additional advice or tips for applying for trademarking a logo? If so, let us know in the comment section below!