Before I talk about trademarks, I want to preface this post by saying that I am not an expert in trademarks, nor do I have any authority on the matter. My insights are based on my experiences as a trademark holder and business person. You may want to consider talking with an attorney if a trademark is something you are seriously considering for your business.
Now on with the post...
I find that trademarks are a pain in the neck. I don't like them, but do find them absolutely necessary for my business. Here's why: My business is something I've worked really hard to build into a nationally known brand. In business, much of your success hinges on the reputation your business has and is identified through its name. Without my business name and what I've built, I'd really have nothing.
One of the very first things we did when we started The Farm Chicks, was to trademark it. We knew that we wanted to build the show into something big and wanted to protect what we were going to build. Now, if our plans were to have a little sale in a barn on a casual basis once in a while, I wouldn't have bothered. Because trademarks are not easy. In fact, I find them to be a whole lot of no fun.
Here's why: When you trademark your business, that is only the beginning. As the trademark owner, you must police your trademark, or you run the danger of not being able to enforce it. For example, if my attorney discovers there is someone in Timbucktoo holding an event called The Farm Chicks or anything similar, we must let them know I am the owner of that trademark. Anything that can be confused with The Farm Chicks (whether or not it is the same name) has to be acted upon.
So what do we do when this occurs? (And yes, it does happen...) I reach out to the person/people in a very friendly manner and explain to them that I am the legal owner of that trademark. I also explain that I need then to stop using the name immediately. Usually, that resolves the issue, but there are times when they just don't understand. They think they should be able to use it because I'm in Spokane and they're in Timbucktoo. Or they don't see how they're event could be confused with mine and so on. So, I or my attorney very politely try to explain how a trademark works. It's a frustrating and very stressful process and sometimes they can become defiant. And that part of business is just no fun for me. I do what I do because I love it and sometimes those sort of things can really be hard.
One time, two individuals started a very similar business with a very similar name and then took my story and Teri's story (back when Teri was still a part of the business) and copied them as their own. Their website had out bios on it!
Another time, two individuals started a very similar business with a very similar name and their logo was almost an identical copy of mine, complete with the star.
And many more...
But this is why trademark law exists. Anything that can cause confusion in the marketplace (can cause any confusion for the consumer) must be addressed, if you own the trademark. If you are the owner of the trademark and you just ignore these violations, you run the risk of not being able to enforce it. And really, if you dont have any plans of enforcing it (and it can get very expensive to do so), why get a trademark in the first place?
Did you know that you can search all current and pending trademarks that exist? If you are starting a business, this is really something you should check before you choose a name. You definitely don't want to choose a name that someone else already owns. It's called the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). You can find the website here.
When you see the TM mark on a logo, that usually means the business has applied for a trademark and is in the process. Once the trademark has gone through, the (R) can be used.
Filing for a trademark can also be expensive. I think it is around $500 for a filing fee and additional for every single category you are trademarking in. It can get complicated. My attorney handles all of my trademarks, and that can get costly as well, as I pay attorney fees in addition to the actual filing fees described above. Again, I'd never do it if I wasn't taking the business so seriously.
It's all food for thought. Really, it's all about how far do you intend to take your business? If nothing else, I do hope you will search the TESS site before choosing a name. It will make life so much easier for you and your business in the long run, whether you choose to trademark or not. Because after all, someone else could already own the name you would like to use.