A trademark can be defined as any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination thereof that is used by a business to identify and distinguish the goods you make, sell, or distribute by your business from the items made, sold, or distributed by others.

As trademark licensing attorneys, we see them every day, and sometimes just a logo can become so familiar that we identify the exact company just by seeing it. Symbols used by major companies, such as Coca-Cola, Nike, and SpaceX are just a few examples.

Large companies are not the only ones that can benefit from these trademarks and symbols. As a small business owner, you too can have your goods or services “branded,” so the fine items you make or provide can be identified with you alone.

Even before you begin registration, however, it’s vital to determine whether the mark you are trying to register is considered a trademark or a service mark. They are defined as follows:

  • A trademark is a word, phrase, logo, or symbol used to identify or market a product
  • A service mark is a word, phrase, logo, or symbol that is used to identify or market a service

Once you have made this determination, there are specific steps that you need to take in licensing your trademark. Examples of these are:

  • Do a thorough search for the mark: Before submitting your application for registration, you need to search the mark which you intend to register and try to determine whether your mark is being used or even looks substantially like any others in use currently. This process can be more challenging than you might think, but, at the least, your mark should be searched on the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website in both the trademark and corporations’ sections.

There are varied places you should use for your search, and a North Carolina trademark attorney has the best information for doing so. If you find similar marks, you should consult a business attorney before the registration of your mark to avoid potential infringement issues. Companies take the symbols of their businesses very seriously, and infringement cases can be expensive and damaging to your business.

  • Be able to show that your trademark is currently being used: The North Carolina Secretary of State does require proof that the mark is being used in N.C. in connection with the applicant’s goods or services before granting registration.
  • Submit at least three original specimens of your trademark: These three original specimens must be current and no more than six months old. You also must make sure that the specimens of the mark submitted are currently being used in North Carolina.

What Should I Not Do When Licensing My Trademark in North Carolina?

As you begin to understand, registering your trademark can be a detailed and challenging task, and there are things you need to be especially aware of when you attempt to file.

Some examples of these points are:

  • No Incomplete or Inaccurate Applications: The application for trademark registration is available on the Secretary of State’s website and needs to be fully and correctly completed.
  • No Photocopies: Any photocopies, drawings, blueprints, faxes, computer printouts, or camera-ready layouts are simply not acceptable by the Secretary of State and will be rejected on that basis.
  • Registration Fees: You must submit your payment when you file your application with the Secretary of State. The fee is paid to the Secretary of State, and it’s important to check that it’s the correct current amount. Also, this registration fee is paid for each application that you submit, and there may be more than one.
  • File Affidavit Of Use: Registrations for trademarks are effective for 10 years from your initial registration date and must be renewed for subsequent 10-year terms. This must be done if the mark continues to be used in North Carolina in connection with the goods or services listed on the Certificate of Registration for the mark.

It is especially important to note that between the fifth and sixth years following your initial registration date for each trademark, another specimen must be submitted to the Trademark Section of the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office. This shows the current use of the mark and includes a signed statement verifying the owner’s continued use of the mark. This document is called an “Affidavit of Use” and is currently available in a downloadable format from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website.

Can a North Carolina Legal Planning Lawyer Help Me File, and How?

Any business owner knows that dealing with state requirements, documents, and departments is usually a daunting and time-consuming task. To you, as a business owner, time is money and filing a trademark is challenging, especially if you need to file for more than one.

Also, there are pitfalls that you most likely aren’t aware of during your filing and even after you’ve filed. Any issue and the state will return your documents for correction.

Here are five reasons a trademark lawyer can be of help:

  • The Trademark Office will usually try to help you during the process; however, they won’t give you legal advice. Without using an attorney, you are going to be on your own regarding the toughest decisions that could affect your business later.
  • Your lawyer handles the trademark application process on your behalf and assists in properly filing for the goods or services associated with your trademark.
  • Your experienced trademark attorney can quickly and diligently respond to any refusals to register your trademark.
  • A trademark attorney can keep you out of problems by performing your search of existing trademarks and advise you on any risks you may be facing.
  • Remember that the state will not stop others from using your trademark and that must be monitored.

Having a registered trademark is a significant step for your business. Don’t take chances on obtaining it correctly. Your trademark lawyer will assist with your accurate filing and protect this valuable investment.