Registering your business’s trademark with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) is not a requirement for protecting your mark. However, any “common law” rights based on the use of your mark are far more limited than the federal protections. For example, although you can file for trademark protection in Ohio, the state’s trademark statutes do not prevent someone from using the same mark in Indiana. A business which later discovers an existing trademark (like this North Carolina taco restaurant chain) could be forced to rebrand itself in order to avoid claims of infringement.
Although you may still be able to establish rights based on your legitimate use of the mark, there are significant advantages to federal trademark registration. The USPTO lists at least five important benefits of registration:
- Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner’s claim. Any potential users of the same mark are presumed to know that your claim is federally protected, even if the infringer does not have actual notice. For example, even if a soft drink maker had never heard of Coca-Cola and acted in good faith, his attempt to trademark the new drink name Koca-Cola would likely be denied because he is assumed to know that he is infringing.
- Evidence of ownership of the trademark. Federal registration proves that you have the exclusive right to own and use the mark nationwide, barring others from trademarking the same mark or claiming ownership.
- Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked. If your mark is federally protected, you can seek to have a trademark infringement case heard in federal, rather than in state, court.
- Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries. Marks can also be protected in foreign countries; however, in order to register your mark in a foreign country, you must first have a U.S. registration.
- Registration may be filed with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods. Once your mark is federally registered, it can be filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop imitation foreign goods from infringing on your protected mark. This can prevent infringing goods from being imported, as in recent cases involving counterfeit Hermes handbags or Levi’s jeans.
Other important advantages of federal trademark registration include the right to use the ® trademark symbol and the potential of receiving higher damages in a lawsuit.
As a result, in order to fully protect your business’s trademark, federal protection is a must.