We refer to the USPTO a lot on this blog. Technically it is known as the United Stated Patent and Trademark Office but it is often shortened to the Trademark Office or just USPTO. In this week’s post we want to provide more information on the office, what it does (and doesn’t do), and how it plays an important part for your business.
What is the USPTO and What Does it Do?
The USPTO is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Commerce with more than 10,000 employees. Unlike most federal agencies, the USPTO is self-funded, paying for its expenses through the fees it collects on applications. Although the agency serves many functions including advising the President and other departments on intellectual property matters, its two primary functions are the registration of patents and trademarks.
What it Doesn’t Do
The USPTO will not give you legal advice on the ability to trademark your business name or logo and it also does not have any involvement with obtaining copyright protection for your creative works (the Copyright Office is tasked with managing our country’s copyright database and it is a part of the Library of Congress).
How It Affects Businesses
If you are an inventor or have some other patentable technology or business methods then the office may grant you the exclusive right to make use of and license those items for a limited time (normally 20 years). But as this is a trademark blog, we will focus on the trademark division of the USPTO.
The USPTO maintains a searchable database that contains trademark applications and registered marks (including denied applications and expired registrations). This database can be immensely valuable to your business because it can shed light on other businesses that might be using a name prior to your use. It can also offer information on what marks have been denied protection (for example, because they were descriptive) which can help you in picking the right, protectable, name for your business.
The USPTO also provides registration certificates for approved applications. If your application is approved and makes its way through the opposition process, you will obtain a certificate of registration that you can use to prevent trademark infringement. Although it doesn’t always work, providing proof of your registration with the USPTO will often help you reach a settlement with infringers prior to filing a lawsuit.
The USPTO also handles certain disputes such as opposition proceedings to oppose the registration of a mark. Once an application is approved, it is published for opposition for any individual or company to oppose registration. If you object to the registration, a trial-like proceeding is started during which you can submit your arguments.
Working With the USPTO
With respect to trademarks, anyone (including non-lawyers) can work directly with the USPTO to apply for a trademark and file various renewal documents. However, trademark law itself is often confusing, even to many lawyers!
For that reason, it is often a best practice to use the services of a trademark lawyer to assist you with your application. If you want to learn more about how we help clients obtain trademark registrations, read more about Mighty Marks® here.
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.