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Trademarks are Valuable Business Assets

As Chicago Business Lawyers, we counsel our clients that the best time to trademark your business name or product is when you start your business.

What is a Trademark?

There is a fine line between making your company a household name and running the risk of losing the protected status of your name as a result. Just ask the makers of "aspirin," "mimeograph," "escalator," and "monopoly."

Each of those names were once a proprietary trademark. The names were given to a particular product made by a particular manufacturer. But because the companies allowed those product names to be used incorrectly, the terms became generic. Courts ruled that those companies no longer had the right to protect the trade names. Once that happened, the name could be picked up and used by any vender of similar products and services. The original holder of the trade name had no legal recourse.

The United States Trademark Association defines trademark as "a word (or several words), a name, a symbol, or any combination of these used to identify the goods of a company."

Trademarks registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are usually identified by the circle "R" next to the name. Using the letters "TM" is an indication that the mark has not yet been approved, but is in the process. This indicates your intent to register the mark.

The trademark was created to protect the consumer from fraudulent business operators who would market an inferior product under the more popular name of another business. Customers would buy the inferior product thinking they were buying the "real" thing.

When is the Best Time to Register Your Trademark?

Trademark rights arise on first use within a product category or geographic market. This means that you can claim ownership as soon as you start selling products under your preferred trademark without formally registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You can protect your trademark by using the designation “TM” after it; you will use an “R” in a circle after the mark is registered. However, it is a best to get your trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because registration will help you in case of legal challenges. If you start selling products before doing the exhaustive search that goes with trademark registration – to ensure you aren’t infringing on another company’s mark – you could be exposed to some significant legal risk.

As experienced Chicago Business Lawyers, we strongly urge our clients to register a trademark as soon as the business is formed. Even if you are quite ready to sell your product, fling an “intent-to-use” trademark application is the best practice and the registration issues once you began selling.

How do I Protect My Trademark?

Trademarks are easily protected, but they are just as easily misused. To protect your company's mark, the name must be clearly marked as a registered trademark on it first and most prominent use in all company publications, displays, packaging and materials. The loss of trademark status can be devastating to a business. Protecting its integrity is the responsibility of every employee. The experienced Chicago Business Lawyers of Bellas & Wachowski Attorneys at Law understand the problems of perfecting and protecting your trademark. Much money is spent each year by companies defending trademarks in court. Much money is also spent educating the public that a particular product is a trademark and not a generic term.

Internally, a company can do a lot to protect itself from the loss of trademark status on its products or service. The most obvious means of protecting a trademark is to take to court those who would seek to use your mark without permission from your company. This "after-the-fact" procedure is expensive.

It is far less expensive to survey your company's uses of your trademark to insure it is being properly protected. Take a look at your company's letterhead, envelopes, advertising, packaging, forms, brochures, sales materials and signs. Educate your employees in the proper use of the trademark.

Just as every copier/duplicator is not a “Xerox” and every facial tissue is not a “Kleenex”, not every maker of products similar to yours can use your name to promote its product.

Protecting your trademark is in the best interest of the consumer and in the best interest of your company. The experienced business lawyers of Bellas & Wachowski Attorneys at Law can assist you and your business in protecting your business interests.

How Much Does It Cost to Register a Trademark?

You can file a trademark application for a filing fee as low as $325 directly with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But, it is nearly always better to hire an experienced business lawyers to handle your trademarks and other intellectual property. According to study by the University of North Carolina School of Law, applicants who used a business lawyer were 50% more likely to get their trademarks approved than were those who applied without legal representation.

The process begins with obtaining a preliminary legal trademark search that costs about $500 to $750. Legal fees range from $1,100 to $2,000 (plus government filing fees) for each trademark filing.

Contact an Experienced Chicago Business Lawyer

The lawyers at the Chicago Business Law firm of Bellas & Wachowski Attorneys at Law serve as trusted business advisors to hundreds of business owners and their families. For immediate service, contact George Bellas (847.823.9030 Ext: 219 or george@bellas-wachowski.com).