Trademarks can be a confusing and complex issue for startups and their entrepreneurs. Most people know they need a trademark to protect their brand, but most general knowledge on the topic seems to end there. The first thing you need to know about trademarks is that it generally comes down to a business, not legal, decision. Basically, how much protection do you want/need, and how much are you willing to spend? One of the first business decisions you’ll have to make is whether you want to protect your brand in a standard character format, stylized design, or both.
Standard Character Format
The standard character format is is used to protect words, letters, numbers, or a combination of those without claiming any particular font, color, design, style, etc. This provides the broadest rights for your trademark, and allows you to use those words, letters, and numbers in any manner.
This is an example of a standard character format trademark:
Stylized or Design Format
The stylized or design format is what you might use after you choose a fancy design or logo. This format is used to protect words, letters, numbers, when they appear in a specific font, color, design, or style. This is also the type of trademark used to protect a design or logo that doesn’t contain words, letters, numbers, etc.
If you specify one color, your protection will be limited to that color. Any other color won’t be protected by that mark. So if you register your design in blue, and change your design to green later, you’ll have to file a new trademark to protect your green design. To avoid this, you can choose to file the mark in black and white, and not make a claim to a particular color.
This is an example of a stylized or design format trademark:
So, Which One Should I File?
I’m an attorney, so my answer has to be that it really depends on your exact situation. If you can afford it, filing both will afford better protection than just one or the other. In most situations where clients only have the resources to file one, I generally recommend the standard character format.
The standard character format is usually your brand name, your identification in the market place. It’s what people associate with your product or good. If you have to change your brand name because someone sends you a cease and desist letter, you’ll have to tell your customers, clients, and everyone else about the new name. That can be expensive.
If you have to stop using a design mark, you may be able to just change the design. You can chalk it up to getting a fresh look. In the end, it’s generally more costly, financially as well as in terms of losing established goodwill and time, for a business to have to abandon their name then abandon their design.
This post only describes a small segment of the decisions you’ll have to make when you decide to protect your business with a trademark, so definitely don’t rely solely on this post when trademarking. In other words, talk to an attorney, as trademarks can be much tougher than they appear. If you’re interested in learning more on trademarks, let me know in the comments.