Trademarks 101: How To Protect Your Good Name


The difference between copyright and trademark isn’t always obvious, but the distinction matters here.

Both are ways of protecting intellectual property, but copyright generally protects “original works of authorship” like a book, song or poem. A trademark covers the right of such things as brands, titles and logos. In your case, establishing and protecting the brand name of your clothing company is clearly a trademark issue.

There are plenty of low-cost ways of accomplishing this, none of which even require a lawyer. Do-it-yourself legal sites like LegalZoom or Nolo can be great resources for registering a trademark. The do-it-yourself cost ranges from $150 or so for a basic package to around $400 for more bells and whistles.

LegalZoom, for example, will search the federal trademark database for direct conflicts — if you try to give your clothing company a name another clothing company has already trademarked, your application will be rejected — and perform a comprehensive state and common-law search.

Absent conflicts, you, a lawyer or a legal service will prepare a federal trademark application and file it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO Web site has a wealth of information, including an extensive FAQ section and a fee schedule if you choose to file directly on your own.

Registering your trademark is only the start of defending your corporate name. For your rights to a trademark to continue, you have to use it, protect it against infringers, and renew it. The history of brand names is littered with aspirins, cellophane and crock-pots — all former trademarks that lost their protection because their use became generic.

Photo by patentlawny.

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