How to Trademark an Idea

  •    Kelly is a freelance SEO consultant based out of Washington D.C. She has worked for Philadelphia marketing agencies and writes for several lifestyle sites.

Sometimes, a great business idea can come out of nowhere like a lightning bolt. Other times, you realize your passion early on and work for years to develop a solid plan. However your idea came to you, you’ll want to make sure to secure it legally by setting up a trademark.

According to the definition the government uses, "Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactures and to indicate the source of the goods." Once you’ve chosen your business name and logo, protecting your branding is an important next step. Learning how to trademark your idea is as simple as following these steps:

Step One: Search the Trademark Directory

First things first--you want to make sure you aren’t trying to trademark an existing idea or business name! Search the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) for the trademark you want to use. Before you can trademark your idea, you need to verify that no one else owns that trademark for your product.

Step Two: File your Trademark Application

Once you ensure that an existing trademark doesn’t exist for your business name or product, you can start the application process. You’ll need to include the company and its partners’ names and a depiction of your branding. There is also a base application fee of $275 in addition to the online application. The trademark application can be found on the USPTO website.

Step Three: Monitor your Application Status

The trademark process can take anywhere between one year to several years, depending on the amount of class registrations you are applying for. If your goods or services fall within multiple classes, each trademark will be considered separately and can lengthen the process. However, it’s helpful to routinely check the status of your application for any supplemental documentation you may be asked to provide--about every three months. In the meantime, you can use your trademark in your business dealings and marketing materials while your application is in process.

Step Four: File to Maintain Ownership of your Trademark ​

Once your trademark is approved, you will have to refile to maintain ownership before the end of the sixth year of use and every six years following your initial filing. Take note that the USPTO will not send out reminders at these six year increments. Legal registration of a trademark can last indefinitely if the proper paperwork is filed correctly.

Once you’ve trademarked your business name and products, it’s helpful to do a cursory check every now and then to make sure another business isn’t violating your trademark within your industry. Keeping your idea secure with a trademark is a vital step in establishing your business.