A while back I did a FAQ on many of the copyright questions I receive. It’s about time to do one on trademarks as well.
Note: This is not a complete list of everything you need to know about trademarks, but a few commonly asked questions I receive. (Updated June 2021)
1) Do I need to register a trademark?
If you think the trademark is vital to your brand or organization, then registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) makes sense—this is known as a federal trademark. But, only do so if you are using it in interstate commerce and plan on continuously using it. Sales of product in interstate commerce and continued use are requirements to maintaining federal trademark protection. If you are using a trademark without registering it, you have what are known as common law rights, but it can be difficult to establish and protect those rights. Registration with the USPTO is the best way to prove and enforce your rights.
1) a. Can I register a trademark if I am not yet using it?
Yes, you can file an intent-to-use application. This will preserve your right to use the trademark in connection with your goods. However, there is an additional cost to do so. When you begin using your trademark, you will have to submit a statement of use and additional fee ($100) to convert it to a registration. If you have not begun using your trademark in commerce within 6 months of it being allowed, then you will have to file a extension of time request and pay an additional fee ($125).
2) Can I register a comic book title as a trademark?
Yes, so long as you continue publishing the comic book as an ongoing series under the same title. Again, continued use is key to maintaining a trademark. Because of this requirement, titles of books or one-shots are not eligible for trademark protection.
3) How much does it cost to register a trademark?
It costs between $250-$350 per class of goods/services to file a trademark registration. Depending on how it’s filed, the number of classes of goods/services selected, and if it encounters any issues during the registration process, the costs of registration could increase. If you’re using an attorney or a service to assist you in registering the trademark, those fees will be separate. Once registered, there are additional fees to maintain your trademark registration.
4) Are there other trademark registration options?
You can try and register your trademark in the state in which you reside. It will be cheaper, but only grants you trademark rights in that state.
5) Can’t I just put a ® next to my title?
No, the ® designation is reserved only for trademarks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Unregistered trademarks may be designated with a “TM,” but it does not grant you any special rights.
If you’d like to read more about trademarks, check out my previous post in my Comics Startup 101 series.