By Greg Holden

The legal standard is that you get the rights to your trade name when you begin using it. You get the right to exclude others from using it when you register. But when you apply to register a trademark, you record the date of its first use. Effectively, then, the day you start using a name is when you actually obtain the rights to use it for trade.

In addition to a federal trademark law, each state has its own set of laws establishing when and how trademarks can be protected. You can obtain trademark rights in the states in which the mark is actually used, but attorney Adler says a federally registered trademark can trump such rights.

It’s important to also file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but only if your trademark will be used beyond your state’s borders. You are eligible to apply for national registration of your trademark only if you plan to use your trademark in interstate commerce.

After researching your trade name against existing trademarks, you can file an application with the Patent and Trademark Office online by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) home page.

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    This page includes links to forms and instructions on how to fill out your application online.

  2. Click the Initial Application Form link, which is on the page under the Forms heading.

    A page with a list of application forms appears.

  3. Click the Trademark/Servicemark Application, Principal Register link.

    The Selection of Application Type page appears.

  4. Choose the type of form that applies to you and click Continue.

    The Trademark/Servicemark Application Form Wizard page appears.

  5. Fill out the Applicant Information form and click Continue.

    The Mark Information page appears.

  6. Enter the trademark in the box provided and click Continue.

    The Goods and/or Services Information page appears.

  7. Click the Add Goods/Services button, enter any goods or services you provide that are associated with your trademark, and click Continue.

    A form entitled Correspondence Information appears.

  8. Review the correspondence information, make any corrections needed, and click Continue.

    The Signature Information page appears.

  9. Type your signature, date, and position, and click the Validate button at the bottom of the form.

    If you filled out all the fields correctly, a Validation screen appears. If not, you return to the original form page so that you can correct it.

  10. Print the special declaration to support the adoption of the electronic signature and retain it for your records; then click the Submit button.

    You receive a confirmation screen if your transmission is successful. Later, you receive an e-mail acknowledgment of your submission.

Generally, each state has its own trademark laws, which apply only to trademarks that are used within a single state. Products that are sold in more than one state (such as those sold on the Internet) can be protected under the federal Lanham Act, which provides for protection of registered trademarks. To comply with the Lanham Act, register your trademark.

Trademark registration can take 18–24 months. It’s not uncommon to have an application returned. Often, an applicant receives a correspondence called an Office Action that either rejects part of the application or raises a question about it. If you receive such a letter, don’t panic.

You need to go to a lawyer who specializes in or is familiar with trademark law and who can help you respond to the correspondence. In the meantime, you can still operate your business with your trade name. You can also fill out and submit a form that communicates your intent to use a trademark, which enables you to use a trademark before it’s registered.