Preventing Identity Theft: Registering Your Business Trademark or Servicemark

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a decade since my wife and I opened our doors of Inn Serendipity in southwestern Wisconsin.

Our marketing background at a large advertising agency in Chicago taught us the value in protecting your company name and brand by trademarking your logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). For Inn Serendipity, we did so from the very start. Now, it’s time to renew based on the USPTO’s ten year renewal cycle. From our perspective, we found that we didn’t have to be an attorney (or a genius) to use their straightforward Trademark Electronic Application System (or TEAS) service online.

After our original submission of our logo to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) by following their step-by-step process, we just had one additional renewal payment of $100 and submission of an affidavit that demonstrated our use of our business logo between our fifth and sixth year. Since we applied for a trademark within only one USPTO class, the original fee was about $500.  While there are many “Serendipity” bed and breakfasts, there is only one “Inn Serendipity.”  Given that we plan on being the longest, continuously operating B&B in the nation (possible, since we started Inn Serendipity when we were only 30 years old), preserving and protecting our name is crucial.

Now heading into our ninth year, we, once again, have to renew our trademark for another ten years to protect our investment of time, energy and creativity into developing our award-winning green enterprise. Our trademark protects us from someone else coming along and infringing upon our identity. That said, we are eager to share how we operate our enterprise and borrow our approach to becoming a better business, not necessarily a bigger one.  It’s what we write about in ECOpreneuring (from which some of this blog is drawn). Our first book, Rural Renaissance, covers a wide range of topics related to running our enterprise as well as living sustainably.

Naming your Business

A DBA refers to “doing business as” and establishes the name of your business. Our sub-chapter S Corporation serves as the legal business while we hold a DBA, Inn Serendipity®. Registration forms and fees vary by state but most are easy to determine by contacting your state’s Department of Commerce. Often, many DBAs can be created within one umbrella business name.  Forming a corporation or Limited Liability Company, done within a particular state, is distinct from trademarking a name used for business.

Increasingly, many green businesses choose to create an authentic connection to a real place, like a farm that sells honey, by branding themselves and using their personal name in the business name. There is no correct business name. But whatever name you select must not be used by any other business, otherwise you might find yourself in a legal dispute. You can do free searches for names on the USPTO website.

Registering your Trademark

Naming your business is fulfilling and should be a meaningfully creative process. While possibly requiring the services of an attorney if you have a complex business model, establishing the name of your business and registering its trademark or service mark with the US Trademark Office can be done with the forms provided on their website. Protecting your business name insures that no other business will usurp your reputation and borrow your identity for their profit, not yours. The small “TM” refers to a registration mark waiting for approval by the US Trademark and Patent Office. Once approved, the “®” replaces the TM. It’s important to use these marks to protect the reputation of your business and reaffirm that you are pursuing business in earnest, not as a hobby.

Besides the easy to navigate USPTO website, amazingly you’re just a toll-free telephone call away from someone with the USPTO to personally assist you with your registration.  As for the cost to register a trademark, perhaps a better way to think about it might be to consider the costs (or lost revenue) your enterprise might incur should your business have its identity stolen.

Protecting Authored Works and Inventions

Processing Trademarks and Servicemarks are only a few of responsibilities of the USPTO. They’re also the Federal office that handles patents and copyrights. Protecting your ideas is important. Patents, usually lasting up to 20 years, are offered by the US Patent and Trademark Office for intellectual property that is unique in design, utility (a process or machine) or plant. Copyrights apply to “original works of authorship” and include literary, musical and other artistic forms of expression; the length of a copyright depends on when it is created, how many individuals may be involved and various other factors. Our books are copyrighted. If we invented a new wind turbine that mounts on our roof, it’d be patented. The bigger or more complex the idea, the more you might consider hiring an attorney to assist you in protecting your interests.

Graphic: Inn Serendipity’s trademarked logo/www.innserendipity.com

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