Paper Cuts: The Trademark Process
When I decided to rebrand my business as Sincerely, Jackie, I knew that someday I would leave my full-time job to focus on my design and stationery work. Since my goal was to make Sincerely, Jackie my primary business and income, I knew I wanted to protect my business identity and thus decided to trademark Sincerely, Jackie,
I had this vision/nightmare in my mind of myself, five years in the future, with a successful stationery business only to find out that either 1) somebody else was previously operating with my same business name, and they sent me a cease & desist letter making me close down shop; 2) somebody copied my logo, website, or other branding material, and I had no legal way to stop them; or 3) somebody opened their business, after me, and used my business name, and again, I had no way to stop them.
Starting a business is expensive - it's an investment of your time, emotions, passion, and finances. I decided early on with Sincerely, Jackie that I wanted to invest in a registered trademark at the very start of my business creation. I had not a clue in the world what was involved with gaining a trademark, but I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it would give me a sense of protection and ownership.The process took over a year, but as of April 2014, Sincerely, Jackie is trademarked!
Now, I'm not a lawywer and don't want any of this post to be taken as legal advice. This is merely my experience and take-aways from the trademarking process. Ok? Ok! Now let's get into it.
USING A LAWYER
I wanted to work with a lawyer for the trademark process. It was important to me to have a resource and professional that I could rely on. I gathered a list of lawyers recommended from friends, family, and other business owners. I called every single one of them. Quotes ranged from $500-$5,000 for the process, and some lawyers were incredibly professional, while some were curt and seemed to care less about my small business. I ended up using a lawyer who was recommended by a friend, is about my age, and specifically studied trademark law. He guided me through the entire process, was patient, knowledgeable, and made everything incredibly easy for me. I highly recommend working with a lawyer when applying for a trademark. Guys, it's what protects your business, don't cut corners.
WHAT IT COSTS
When calling the dozens (yes, dozens) of lawyers, I got quotes from $1,500-$5,000 and up. There are a lot of steps involved when applying for the trademark, some lawyers charge a flat rate package, some charge hourly, and some charge a flat rate for each step of the process. I think I spent about $1,800 in total for my trademark, which was at the lower end because my mark got approved first try. My payments were spread out during the application process, so it was nice not to have to pay it all up-front.
DOING A TRADEMARK SEARCH
When registering a trademark, it's important to search the existing trademark registry to make sure your mark is not already in use. If you apply for a trademark that is already in use, your application will get denied and you won't get your money back. Additionally, a mark does not need to be legally trademarked for it to be off the market. If there was another Sincerely, Jackie stationery business that had been in business longer than me, had already been established in the stationery industry, and they were easy to find via a phone book or Google search; my application would have been denied and bye-bye money.
The trademark office does a VERY thorough search for your trademark before approving your application, and it's very common for people to have their applications denied or sent back for updates during the process. It's important to do a very extensive search of your trademark before submitting the application. Some lawyers charge additionally for this service, but my lawyer gave me a list of ways for me to do the search myself - including the trademark registry website. I spent weeks researching Sincerely, Jackie, and when I was 99% sure it was original, my lawyer and I submitted our application. It saved me a few hundred dollars to do the search myself, and my hard work paid off when my application was submitted first time!
WHAT THE TRADEMARK OFFICE LOOKS FOR
In addition to looking for your exact mark, the trademark office also wants to ensure that your business is not too similar to an existing business within your business category. So for me, we needed to make sure there was no Sincerely, Jacki; Sincerely, Jacki, Sincerely, Jacky, Sincerely, Jacqui and so on. My lawyer said to me over, and over, and over, that if my company would confuse the audience of an existing company, I would get denied. In addition, we did image searches to make sure my logo was not too similar to any others that already existed. The trademark office may come back and ask you to alter or change your logo, business name, etc before flat out denying your application. Although keep in mind that every time you re-apply, you have to pay an additional fee.
WHAT YOU GET
At the end of the day, there are tons of important reasons to trademark your business. For me, it was about protecting my brand name, my logo, and my unique identity within the stationery industry. I hope to never be in a position where I need to send a cease and desist letter, but if I need to, I feel empowered knowing I have a lawyer and trademark on my side.
WHAT YOU DON'T GET
This is random, but a learning opportunity for me. You do not get to kick people off of social media if they already have your business name in use. This is why some of my accounts are Sincerely, Jackie; some are Sincerely, Jackie Paper; and some are JackieMDesign. I know that having various names is not ideal, but since folks had sincerelyjackie before I trademarked, I can't kick them off. Womp Womp.
You also create your trademark within certain classes, or industries. It costs money for each industry you want your mark in. I trademarked in various paper and design related industries, which means that if somebody wants to open an accounting firm called Sincerely, Jackie, they can. Why? Because we wouldn't be confusing each other's customers.
I hope this little overview was helpful for you! Like I said, I am NOT a lawyer and do not claim to be giving you any legal advise. In fact, my best advice is for you to hire a lawyer!
Next week on Paper Cuts I'll be talking about everybody's favorite topic: pricing. I look forward to you joining me again here on the blog!