As a web startup (social networking website) is it necessary(is it necessary to do this immediately) to have a lawyer submit trademark and/or copyright registrations for my website?
Although not required, most applicants for trademarks and copyrights use a lawyer for legal advice regarding use, filing the application, and providing an opinion on the likelihood of success in the registration process, since not all applications proceed to registration. A lawyer may help you avoid many potential pitfalls. You should submit an intent to use application for the trademark you will use for the site as soon as possible. The copyright application can probably wait until you have the site built out and launch the beta version.
If you want to submit the applications yourself, the links below provide instructions on how to do that.
Entire books have been written on how to establish and run a social network website. You should read a few of the books identified via the link below [see the books listed near the bottom of the page as well]. Then go visit with your own business attorney who's savvy about ecommerce and intellectual property law. Good luck.
Yes, but not legally required. It is necessary from a business standpoint as the application for trademark registration by treaty (Paris Convention) gives you international benefit of the priority of your US filing date for six months. (Do not confuse this with patents where it is 12 months, or you might delay and run into problems). That is important on websites, since they are immediately internationally accessible and there are pirates, imposters, hackers and bandits out there in the Wild Wordwide Web ready to rip off any clever new website. Even though this makes it a business best practice, in the US [unlike many foreign countries] you get trademark rights automatically just by use in commerce.
If you are starting a website, the last thing you want to happen is to have to switch the website name midway through a marketing launch. Starting over can be catastrophic due to the tight budget of most startups. So, a trademark clearance and domain name clearance followed immediately by an online US trademark application for registration of the name and then registration of the domain name are the first and most important two steps, Since both can be done online in minutes by your IP attorney, it is foolish not to do that. You want the two to be the same or similar and you don't want to run into hassles once you settle on your name.
Bottom Line: Yes, as a practical matter it is necessary, but it should be preceded by a trademark clearance search.
There are several advantages that you will enjoy if your application to register any trademark that you use or intend to use, is approved by the Patent and Trademark Office. Likewise, it is to your advantage to register your copyrights.
That said, it is not strictly necessary to use a lawyer. Nor is it strictly necessary to register immediately. Whether or not it is strictly necessary, however, you may still want to ask yourself whether it is prudent and reasonable to seek legal services in this regard, and to do so quickly. Let me respectfully suggest that hiring a lawyer to help with this process, and doing so right away, is the prudent thing to do.
A registration of a trademark does not actually confer ownership of the trademark. Rather, ownership of a trademark or service mark is secured by using your mark in commerce. Registration is a notice mechanism, to alert the world of your claim that you own the trademark or service mark. Your registration, if the Patent and Trademark Office approves your application to register, will confer several procedural advantages on you, including serving as evidence of nationwide priority, if you ever have to enforce your trademark or service mark against an infringer. Especially if the infringer happens to be a counterfeiter, the remedies under the Trademark Act for the owner of a registered mark are stronger than the remedies that the owners of unregistered marks enjoy. So, again, while it is not strictly necessary to register immediately, several good reasons exist to register sooner rather than later.
Many clients find the trademark registration process goes much better, and often they have better success in choosing stronger trademarks, if they get a well-qualified lawyer involved at the earliest possible opportunity. I often ask clients if they would cut their own hair. Legal services are not much different, when it comes to whether a do-it-yourself approach really delivers good value to you.
As for copyright registrations, again, the registration process is distinct from the legal mechanism of obtaining a copyright owner's exclusive rights in a work. You (or, if it is a work made for hire, the person for whom you are working) will obtain ownership of the copyright as soon as the work at issue is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Thus, registration is not an absolute prerequisite for the copyright to exist. Registration principally comes into play in the enforcement context, when it comes time to take action against an infringer. The remedies available under the Copyright Act are much better for you, if you have registered your copyright. The forms that you would file to register a copyright are not complicated, and I have sometimes helped clients set up a system to file their own registration forms with the Copyright Office. I would recommend that you talk to a lawyer about whether making your own copyright registration filings makes sense for you, or whether it makes more sense to hire an attorney to do it.
Under current U.S. copyright law, you need not do anything beyond publishing your work to be granted a copyright. However, I still suggest to clients that they put a copyright notice on their site.
I also suggest to clients to use a common law trademark (a superscript "TM") rather than filing a trademark from the start. To file a trademark is expensive and requires a separate registration in each catagory. A common law trademark protects you in every catagory.
If your site is successful you can think about spending the money to register the copyright and trademarks.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
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