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So, you’ve finally decided on a logo that best fits your business. It’s perfect for marketing purposes and versatile enough to be used across a wide variety of platforms, including digital and print. You may be excited to kick off some of your advertising plans to generate buzz, but this is an ill-timed first step. Protecting your business from every angle should always be your first consideration and your logo is no exception. Given all the time and effort you’ve likely expended getting your venture off the ground, the last thing you want is for someone else to steal your entire concept – including your logo – and siphon off your hard work.

Trademarking your new logo is the best way to protect your creative property and ensure that the visual representation of your brand is truly your own. The trademark designation offers legal protection surrounding the use of your logo. According to trademark law, infringement happens when another company attempts to use your logo or one extremely similar to it in an effort to make consumers think that your brand and theirs are conflated or the same. Here are the steps to trademark your logo:

Step 1: Create a contract with your logo designer that determines the parameters of its use. Make sure that you stipulate your ownership of the logo in the contract; include language that makes it clear the designer has no further claim on it upon completion of payment and resolution of the contract. Also, stipulate that the logo for which you are paying is intended to be used for commercial purposes for your business. Many logo designers will respect the parameters of such a contract, but some are unscrupulous and will sell your logo to you – and anyone else that likes what they see. An official contract – signed and dated – will offer some measure of protection against re-selling your creative property.

Step 2: Start using your logo on business materials. You should still go through the process of officially filing the patent for your logo’s trademark. However, the law dictates that trademark goes into effect the first time a logo is used on business labeling, packaging, marketing materials or any product associated with the company. Go ahead and start using your logo while you navigate the official filing process to establish a precedent.

Step 3: Make sure that your logo is not misleading, or offensive in any way. This will result in an automatic denial by the U.S. Patent Office. Also, any logo that looks too much like an existing company will be denied as well.

Step 4: Submit an intent-to-use application. You can do this before you even open your doors for business. While the official registration takes longer, the intent-to-use application shows that you’ve begun the process if you must deal with any kind of infringement.

Step 5: Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website and fill out the appropriate paperwork. The website not only provides an opportunity to search for like images and logos but also other phrasing associated with your company. This assures unique branding for your business. The cost varies – between $275 and $325. Be prepared to provide some basic information about your business, including category, the date associated with the first time you used the logo on any business materials and other simple information. It can take up to six months to get a response to the application, which is why it is important to use the logo during this time to establish precedence for use of the logo.