Many lawyers provide trademark and copyright registration services. If you wish to protect intellectual property, using a lawyer is a hassle–free way to do so – but it can also be relatively expensive. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (where you'll register trademarks) and the U.S. Copyright Office (where you'll register copyrighted material) take applications online; you can complete the forms, upload the right files, and pay the fee yourself, avoiding the cost of having a lawyer take care of the process for you.
Here's a brief primer on the process.
A trademark is a word, a phrase, a design, or a symbol (or a combination of these items) used to identify the source of a product or service from other parties who may provide the same products or services. A trademark can also be used to protect those items when they are used to identify a specific product or process. (For example, the word ’Macintosh’ is a name used to identify certain computers made by Apple; Macintosh is a registered trademark of Apple.)
So how does the process work? It starts with an application. You provide:
- An application with contact information, the nature of your business, and a listing of the goods and services your business provides. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has an electronic application system called TEAS.
- A drawing (digital image) of the mark you wish to register. A ’mark’ can be a word, phrase, design, image, etc – whatever you wish to trademark.
- Examples of how the trademark will be used (samples of packaging, Web use, etc.) Examples will be provided as digital images.
- The filing fee, currently $325 per class of goods or services for a standard electronic application.
Your application is then reviewed. (The process can take a number of weeks.) If you are granted a trademark, you can use the ’registered’ symbol ( ® ) beside your trademark, showing it has been successfully registered with the Patent and Trademark Office. (While your application is under review you can use the ’trademark’ symbol ( ) to show that your application is under review.
Keep in mind that a trademark may not be granted if the mark is considered to be generic or infringes upon another trademark already granted. You can search the trademark database for similar company names, product names, service names, etc., to get a sense of whether your application will be successful or not. The more unique and distinctive your mark, the more likely your application will be approved.
For more information about trademarks, and to apply for a trademark online, visit the Patent and Trademark Office at www.uspto.gov .
Copyright is automatically granted when a work is created. You're not required to register your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright office, but registering has several important advantages:
- When you register a copyright, you establish a public record of your copyright ownership.
- You must register your copyright before filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
- If you sue someone for copyright infringement, you can recover additional money and your attorney fees if you registered your copyright within three months of your work's publication or before any infringement occurred. This additional money, called ’statutory damages,’ can be as much as $150,000 for each work infringed, and you avoid the difficult task of proving the exact amount of your loss in court. Without statutory damages, copyright owners are limited to recovering the amount of their actual loss or the profits earned by the infringer.
- Copyright law requires certain copyright owners to deposit two copies of published works with the Library of Congress within three months of publication. Registration fulfills this requirement.
- A registered copyright can be recorded with the U.S. Customs Service. This helps to protect you if someone tries to import infringing copies of your work.
The exact procedures for registering a copyright vary depending on the type of work you are registering. However, all copyright registrations require three things:
- A completed application form. You can submit your copyright registration form online or you can submit a paper form. For many registrations, the copyright office prefers online fining.
- A filing fee. The current online filing fee is $35 for a single author who is the only claimant to a work that is not a work for hire, and $55 for all other works; the paper filing fee is $85.
- Copies of the work you are registering. Depending on the type of work you are registering, you may be required to submit either one or two copies of the work, and there may be other specific submission requirements. Details on how to submit your work are available on the copyright office website.
Filing an application online through the U.S. Copyright Office's Electronic Copyright Office, or eCO, offers several advantages over mail registration:
- Lower filing fee – Using the eCO eService, the fee is $35–$55 per application. By mail, the fee is $85 per application.
- Rapid processing time.
- Online status tracking.
- Secure payment through credit or debit card, electronic check or Copyright Office deposit account.
- Ability to upload certain types of deposits directly into the Copyright Office account as electronic files.
Further information about copyright registration is available at the U.S. Copyright office website, http://www.copyright.gov.