I would like to start a t-shirt company and have multiple original designs made but I am not understanding much about the trademark process.
A trademark indicates where the goods come from. Trademarks are indented to prevent people from suggesting that their products come from you. Logos are a fundamental form of trademark, but company names, mottos, and short phrase may also be trademarks. Trademarks work best when you have established a reputation in a market such that customers are willing to pay a premium to for your product because they know it comes from you, rather than a generic or other supplier.
1) You do not have to register your logo or trademark in order to acquire trademark rights. Those rights are state based rights that accumulate with your use in commerce. In some ways trademark protection is a form of anti-fraud, the state has an interest in preventing someone from pretending to be someone else in a commercial transaction.
2) Registration of your logo/mark with the USPTO provides advantages: First it gives you an objective review by the trademark office as to if someone is has registered a similar mark. They will also assess if the mark is too generic to ever get protection. Registration also provides some evidentiary benefits if you go to sue someone over infringing your mark.
In short, trademarks help your customers know who is providing the shirts and facilitates the accumulation of reputation. Trademarks in big companies are incredibly valuable but every business depends on their reputation. Trademarks are one tool companies can use to protect their reputations.
THe question you ask concerns trademarks and copyrights. Any designs on the shirt fronts may be capable of copyright protection if they are creative works of art. You would file for a copyright on the design online at the US Copyright Office. Regarding any logos on the labels or names on the labels, those you would protect by trademark registrations. You would have to file for a trademark at uspto.gov. It is preferable to have an attorney do this for you so that it is done correctly. Any licensed trademark attorney can assist you. Good luck!
Placing your logo on every shirt-design does not make the shirts themselves "trademarked". They're two different things, the trademark (the logo) and the product sold under the trademark (the shirts or other apparel).
A trademark is something you build good will into and in doing so this helps consumers make purchasing decisions. That is, your trademark will help direct people to your product.
Practically speaking, think about it like this: Lacoste used to be a very "in" brand. People wanted shirts, apparel, etc., just because it had the Lacoste croc (or gator, whichever it is). Same thing with the Nike "swoosh". In the sale of apparel a trademark is a very powerful thing. If your t-shirts become a symbol of prestige, or the next "it" thing, showcasing your logo on your products in some manner will absolutely drive business your way.
A trademark also helps protect you against others who would pass off their wares as yours or play on the good will you've established in building your brand. You can shut this so-called "infringing" behavior down by policing your trademark rights.
If you're serious about your mark and plan to sell nationally (or internationally), speak with counsel (many of us offer free consultations) for further information. Best of luck and I hope this helps in the meantime.
Answers provided by Mr. Robinson are for informational and educational purposes only and by no means constitute legal advice or counseling of any kind.
Your TRADEMARK is what signifies you, your company, as the SOURCE of some goods or services. Like apple for computers. The swoosh for Nike. "We try Harder" for Avis. So for your t-shirt company, let's say it's called Yellow Dragon. The words, and maybe a little yellow dragon, would go on your t-shirt's labels and hang tags and advertising. So you could register Yellow Dragon for t-shirts and maybe also for other clothing in class 25, for ~$300, if that name's not already in use for clothing or some confusingly similar products, and once that application gets by the USPTO, no one else can use Yellow Dragon or a confusingly similar name for t-shirts or other clothing.
The DESIGN on the front of the t-shirt, isn't part of your Yellow Dragon TRADEMARK. If there are words on the t-shirts, those aren't eligible for COPYRIGHT protection because short phrases aren't eligible. For your original images, those images are very likely eligible for a copyright registrations, $35 each. Once registered, that means no one can make substantially similar copies of your designs, or you can sue them.
It can get confusing, so having your own IP lawyer helps.
Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.
Your designs can be used on your T-shirts without a TM designation. They are not trademarks, rather they are decorative designs that can be protected by copyright. A trademark can be a name or a logo. For example, the name Polo, or the horse and rider logo. Both indicate that the T-shirt came from a single source, Polo, by Ralph Lauren. If there was a picture or decorative design on the T-shirt, it probably would not indicate origin, it would be ornamental. If you would like to protect your brand name or logo, I suggest that you retain an experienced Trademark Attorney to counsel you in confidence and clear and register your mark, as appropriate.
For more detailed advice, I recommend that you contact an experienced Trademark/IP attorney to advise you in confidence about your options and potential costs. Many IP specialty firms, like ours, offer an initial free conference by telephone, video conference or in person if you are available locally and would be happy to speak with you. Call and speak with an experienced Trademark attorney who can assist you.
Mr. Sack's postings on Avvo are of a general nature, based on the facts provided and are not intended to be taken as legal advice or to establish an attorney-client relationship.
The trademark speaks to your brand. For example, the word "McDonald's" is a standard character text trademark so is "McNugget" and "BigMac." The golden arches is a logo but it is also a trademark called an image mark or stylized mark. The phrase "I'm Lovin It" is a tagline or slogan and is also a trademark. All of these serve to help identify the source of a good or service in commerce. Merely placing a design on a shirt does not make it a trademark as that can also just be ornamental use. But if you intend that it serve as a source identifier like for example the Nike swish symbol then yes it will be a trademark and it should be protected as best as possible.
Before you invest in any trademark make sure you get some legal guidance upfront. It is of course best practice to clear it before you start using any trademark and starting with a strong one is your best strategy. Know as well that merely registering your business name with a state or county agency or acquiring a domain does not convey any right to use that name in commerce as a source identifier or trademark. For example, I can presumably register my new tech start up "Boogle" with the FL secretary of state because there is no other business already doing business there under that name, but this does not mean that I would not be infringing on the Google trademark, which I would be. The onus is on you to ensure the name you choose is not a problem.
Your trademark will be one of if not the most important and valuable business assets you will have and you will ultimately spend more money in support if it than you will anywhere else (advertising, marketing, PR, branding, packaging, etc.). So you owe it to your business and yourself to make sure you handle this properly upfront and the first order of business always starts with a proper and comprehensive clearance.
Whenever you endeavor into investing in a trademark it is very important that you conduct the proper clearance due diligence on all the text names upfront and before you start spending any money in support of it or submit an application to the USPTO. In the US, this means searching under both federal (USPTO) as well as common law because trademark rights stem from use in this country NOT registration. This means that acquiring a federal registration does not necessarily mean that you are not infringing on another's intellectual property. See the links below on the importance of the due diligence process and common start up mistakes from Entrepreneur Magazine and our overview guide.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with and know you are free to work with counsel located anywhere as you have many options available not just those that provide services in your home state.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
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