What’s the most important part of your business? Is it the people who work for you, the products you sell, or its reputation?

All of those answers are correct, but many small business owners forget to protect something that is equally as important—the name of their business.

Protecting the name of your business is all about securing your brand and can easily be done by completing the trademark application process. Even if you can’t define what a trademark is, you see them every day. The Nike swoosh and Apple’s apple are all visible examples of trademarks.

Trademarks can be defined as any unique word, symbol or device that sets apart one company’s goods and services from another company’s goods and services. A trademark protects those goods and services from being infringed upon or being damaged by the reputation of another company.

Why would a company want to trademark its name? A trademark provides its holder with the legal right to sue another company that uses its trademark to grow its business.

Simply put, a trademark not only defines your company, it provides both long-term value and builds brand recognition

There are several steps to the trademark application process:

  1. Do a trademark search before you name your business to make sure no one else is using it. Research is an important part of the trademark application process—you don’t want to run into problems with conflicting trademarks.
  2. Even before you register your trademark with the federal government, you should secure the TM logo to show you have a stake to it.
  3. Once you’ve settled on a business name, you should file a registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office so you’ll have a legitimate claim to the trademark before anyone else. The USPTO has a total of 45 classes of goods and services and your trademark is good only for the good(s) or service(s) you specify. Talk with a trademark lawyer if you are unsure about which categories to select.

It takes about 10 to 16 months to secure the final trademark, so be sure to keep using the TM logo during that time.

Once you have received your trademark, it is up to you to enforce it. The USPTO does not enforce trademarks and you can lose your trademark if you don’t enforce and maintain it.

Act quickly if another business is infringing your trademark by consulting an attorney on what you should do to secure it.