One of the basic procedures of setting up a business is reserving your trademark. Your trademark is the logo or graphic and the name that you use to present your image to the public, and it's an important part of branding. Reserving a trademark can protect you against having competitors use it or one that is overly similar to it. While you can file for a trademark when you actually start using it, reserving it in advance means the mark is protected while you're getting your business -- and your marketing campaigns -- started.
Confirm that no one else is using the same or a similar trademark by logging into the Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System online. It offers the ability to search by word or by design to let you review both text-based and graphical trademarks. If your trademark is too similar to an existing one, you might not be able to reserve it. On the other hand, even if your search doesn't find anything similar, you still might not be able to reserve your own trademark because the Patent and Trademark Office will also do its own search and may find a potential conflict.
Bear in mind that there is a lot of gray area in these rules. A recent search of the database revealed 2,013 different text-based trademarks containing the word "target." There are also companies named "AAA Plumbing" or something similar in many cities. As such, if you think that your trademark might be too similar to an existing trademark, don't give up. Instead, talk with an attorney that is knowledgeable in trademark law.
Submit a "Trademark/Servicemark Application, Principal Register" form by filling in all of the required fields and submitting the required registration fee. The Patent and Trademark Office will research your trademark and, if it doesn't infringe, publish it to allow any third parties to comment on it. Assuming that there are no complaints, you will receive a "notice of allowance," which means you can now, if you want, complete registering your trademark. It may take nine months for the Patent and Trademark Office to finish its investigation.
Submit a "Request for Extension of Time to File a Statement of Use" if you aren't ready to start using your trademark. The Patent and Trademark Office allows you to extend your trademark in six-month increments for up to three years before you start using it. Each extension requires payment of a fee and filing of the request form.
Submit the "Statement of Use/Amendment to Allege Use for Intent-to-Use Application" form to prove that you are now using your trademark and to have it formally registered.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.