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Trademarks and Service Marks for the
Small Business Owner
Small businesses are the backbone
of the American economy. With the current economic
downturn many individuals are turning toward living the
American dream and starting their own businesses.
A trademark is a unique word
and/or symbol that associates a product with a business.
A service mark is a unique word and/or symbol that
associates a service with a business. These trademarks
and service marks are the lifeblood of a business’
recognition, yet they are often neglected by small
businesses. Just think of the consequences of another
business trying to “ride the coattails” of your hard work
and dedication by using a mark confusingly similar word
and/or symbol as you have been using for years to market and
brand your business.
How to Get a Trademark
This is one of the most difficult
concepts for individuals to understand: a trademark is
obtained through actual usage. You cannot simply start
registering trademarks and then use them in the future.
You need to use the mark in commerce and then register it
for protection, if protection is desired.
Trademarks and service marks do
not actually need to be registered to be valid.
However, if you wish to protect your trademark or service
mark, you should register the mark.
Registration of Trademarks and
To achieve maximum protection,
the trademark or service mark should be registered. An
unregistered trademark or service mark may have some
protection, but you will likely need to resort to costly and
time-consuming litigation to determine its level of
protection. Only a federally registered trademark or
service mark may use the ® symbol, whereas a trademark that
is unregistered, or registered at the state level, may use
the TM symbol, and a service mark the SM symbol.
Federal registration provides
protection across the entire United States and some
international protection through treaties with foreign
countries. State registration provides protection only
within the borders of the state. The main reasons for
any registration are (1) put others on notice of your
exclusive claim to use the words and/or symbols, (2) provide
remedies for infringers of your trademarks and (3) have
peace of mind to be the only business using the word and/or
As stated earlier, federal
registration provides protection across the entire United
States and state protection provides protection in a
specific state. Generally, it is better to have
federal registration, but state registration is still very
useful, especially if you operate a business solely within
Length of Time to Process
Federal registration usually
takes about eight months to process, but it can take well
over a year to complete the registration process. In
other words, do not expect overnight results! This is
where state protection shines because states generally
process a trademark or service mark application within a few
Federal registration is
considerably more expensive than state registration.
The filing fees alone for federal registration are about
$375 whereas state registration filing fees are much less,
only $50 here in Maryland. This is exclusive of
Length of Protection
Federal protection lasts for
eight years and may be renewed as long as the mark is still
in use. The length of state protection varies with
each state. Here in Maryland, trademarks and service
marks are protected for ten year terms and may be renewed as
long as the mark is still in use.
Click here to download a PDF of this article.
This article is being provided for informational purposes
only. You should consult with an attorney before
setting up a business or registering trademarks or service