Remember spending countless hours deciding on the perfect name and logo for your business? You did that with good reason. You probably knew your intellectual property would be one of your most valuable assets. So how do you protect those assets? Today we’ll focus on trademarks (which is how you protect your brand identity, among other things).

Here’s the quick and dirty on trademark protection.

Your Trademark Rights Without Registration

Trademark rights automatically exist the minute you use a trademark “in commerce.” In other words, when you put your business (name, logo, tagline, website, business card) in front of the public. This is referred to as “common law” trademark rights, which are developed through use of your brand and governed by state law.

So while common law rights are cool in that you don’t need to register your trademark in order to exclude others from using it, they come with limitations.

Dealing With Out-of-State Offenders

Common law trademark rights are limited to the area where you use your trademark. So if your business is based in New York, and you’re marketing your business under a brand in New York, then you can’t keep someone from using your trademark in any state other than New York. That means you can’t stop a California business from using your name and logo in California, but you can try to stop that California company from using your trademark to do business in New York.

What About Online Businesses and Common Law Rights?

Thing is, this is way less clear cut for most entrepreneurs who do their sales and marketing online because they’re broadcasting their trademark to the world. Generally your common law trademark rights extend only to those locations where you actually do business, meaning where you can show actual sales to customers.

Dumping Common(law) Hassles of Defending Your Brand

You can avoid the hassle of having to prove sales in every state when your trademark is registered at the federal level. Once your trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you have the exclusive right to prevent others from using it anywhere in the U.S. The exclusive right is available as long as your trademark is used in interstate commerce, meaning you market and make your products and services available across state lines.

More Reasons to Register with the USPTO

Other benefits of registering your trademark with the USPTO include (1) the ability to recover lost profits, attorney fees and costs that result from the trademark infringement; and (2) the right to use the ® (registered) symbol, putting the world on notice that your trademark is federally registered.

And, last but not least, registering your trademark now can save so much money (lots of thousands) in the future.

You should talk to an attorney about registering your trademark.

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