When to register your trademark

One question I hear from a lot of first-time entrepreneurs is how they should go about registering their trademark. There area  few issues to consider here. First, let me state upfront that I’m not an attorney, not an expert in intellectual property, and I’m not giving anyone legal advice. But I hope that I can clarify the role of trademark in your company’s startup journey.

Interbrand's Top 8 brands of 2015

Interbrand’s Top 8 brands of 2015

Trademark Basics

In the United States, trademark is handled by the US Patent and Trademark Office. A trademark is the mark that helps customers to tell your product or service from those of your competitors. It’s an important part of your company’s brand identity. As with copyright, you don’t have to actually register your trademark to start using it. Unlike copyright (which costs $55 to register), it costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to register a Trademark. It’s so expensive because of the time needed to search for previous similar uses of the mark and the attorney’s fees required for the lengthy application process.

When to register

The biggest misconception I hear about trademarks is that you need to go through the extensive registration process before you begin selling products or services to customers. The truth is that this is NOT a preliminary step, and you can start doing business without registration.

I can almost hear the objection: “But what if someone rips off my trademark and starts using my before I can get it registered?” My response is that entrepreneurs shouldn’t rely on a trademark as the only differentiator between their products or services and those of their competitors.

If the only thing that makes you better than your competitors is a logo, then you don’t deserve to lead your intended market. Your goal as an entrepreneur is to create as many barriers to entry behind you as possible. Trademark will eventually be one of these, but you should also consider how to outperform your competition on cost, price, service, delivery, availability, quality, and usefulness.

It’s good to look better than your competition, but it’s preferable to BE better than your competition.

You should plan to register your trademark eventually. But your first task as an entrepreneur is to develop a product or service, get it into customers’ hands, start generating revenue, and focus of being the best (or cheapest or fastest) at what you do. Some of these tasks require money, but they all require hustle. And hustle is both free and rare.

Get out there and make it happen!

*Note: Below is a video that explains all the details of Trademarks and registration, straight from the US Patent and Trademark office. They provide the best technical guidance available. The video IS almost 42 minutes long, so strap in if you plan to watch the entire thing.

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