5 Newbie Trademark Mistakes to Avoid This Holiday Season

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This holiday season, let us suggest that one great way to grow your business is to personalize your marketing materials. The best way to do that? Trademarks!

Trademarks have been around since the Roman Empire, and their purpose hasn’t changed much over time (fun fact: the first users of trademarks are thought to be blacksmiths who made swords, dating back to over 2,000 years ago!). These little signs, designs, or even expressions must be doing something right if they’ve stuck around for this long. Registering your trademark gives you the exclusive right to your brand and helps your customers know who you are. Once the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has accepted your trademark application, you can put your trademark anywhere your customers might see it: on your storefront, merchandises, your website, and even your Facebook page.

But applying for a trademark can be long, complex, and costly. The typical trademark takes almost a year to process (more complex trademarks can take longer); up to 80 percent of trademark filings are initially rejected; and even worse, hiring an intellectual property lawyer can cost thousands of dollars (and that’s just the attorney fees!).

Luckily, there’s a better way.

At Rocket Lawyer, we offer two levels of Trademarking: our Basic Package and our Accelerate Package. You also have the option to kick off with a Comprehensive Search for your trademark, so you can be even more confident that your new trademark application will be accepted by the government.

Still wondering if it’s the right time to make your (trade)mark? Here are some newbie mistakes to avoid:

1. Not being the first applicant

Twitter is worth billions of dollars and has hundreds of millions of active users on a monthly basis. And when people hear the word “tweet,” it’s hard not to think of this social media behemoth. Yet they were rejected in their application to trademark their very own word: tweet. How did this even happen? Well, Twittad, a Twitter-based advertising service, trademarked the phrase “Let Your Ad Meet Tweets” prior to Twitter’s own application. As the saying goes, the early (Twitter) bird gets the worm.

2. Using someone else’s actual trademark

Say what you will about Paris Hilton but unlike some businesses (*ahem* Twitter *ahem*), she registered her catchphrase, “That’s hot.” So it came as no surprise when Paris sued Hallmark for using her likeness and trademarked catchphrase on one of its cards. And even more unsurprisingly, she won.

3. Using someone else’s likeness

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade, you probably know Nicole Polizzi of Jersey Shore, more affectionately known as “Snooki.” After being catapulted to her 15 minutes of fame, Snooki applied to have her name trademarked. The USPTO rejected her application because Snooky, the cat character of a children’s book, already owns the trademark. Good call, USPTO.

4. Privatizing public domain

Until 2006, Wal-Mart had been using the yellow smiley face design for years. Thinking they had exclusive rights to the design, they tried to sue an artist for parodying the symbol. In the end, the courts ruled that the yellow smiley face is public domain so no one person, or company, can own exclusive rights to the design. Subsequently, Wal-Mart began phasing out their smileys in their stores and on their websites.

5. Not completing the application

In 2011, Sarah Palin tried to register her name as a trademark for “motivational-speaking services.” It went through USPTO but her request was quickly rejected. The reason? The USPTO stated, “Please note this refusal will be withdrawn if applicant provides written consent from the individual identified in the applied-for mark.” In other words, she simply forgot to sign the application.

Can you avoid similar mistakes? You betcha! All of these mistakes were clearly preventable. With Rocket Lawyer’s trademark packages, you can be confident that you’ve done everything correctly—the first time around. So you can go on and do what you do best: your business.

Learn more about our trademark packages.

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Founded in 2008, Rocket Lawyer strives to make the law affordable and simple for everyone. With financial backing and technical support from Google Ventures and its other partners, Rocket Lawyer has developed a cloud-based platform connecting millions of people with the legal help they need, at a fraction of the traditional cost. Using simple Q&A interviews, as well as live consultations with attorneys on their mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers, small business owners, self-employed individuals and consumers can now manage a wide variety of legal situations with relative ease. Follow the latest Rocket Lawyer news on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.