When you are working hard to build a brand, it’s easy to say “just trademark everything…name, multiple logos, slogans.” And in a perfect world, you should trademark every aspect of your brand. But in the real world, trademark registrations are not cheap, especially on a start-up budget. And multiple trademark registrations won’t matter if you aren’t also making sales, hiring staff as you grow, and improving your product or service.
So if budget is an issue, what should you trademark first? Your name or your logo?
Names vs Logos
When you register your name as a trademark, you are registering what the USPTO calls a “standard character” or word mark. Standard character marks have the advantage of providing flexibility in your future marketing plans because standard character marks protect the use of the name in any format. So it doesn’t matter if you change the font, the colors, or the size of the mark as you determine how the brand resonates with your customers or clients. As long as you continue to use the same name on your goods or services, then you will continue to have trademark rights in that particular word mark.
On the other hand, when you register a logo, you are registering a “design” mark. As the name implies, a design mark protects the specific design that you register with the USPTO. But if you later re-brand by changing elements of the design or changing your logo entirely, then the new design will need to be registered all over again. And if you stop using the design mark exactly as you originally registered it, you will ultimately lose your trademark in that design. (This is why you shouldn’t rely solely on marks that combine both your name and logo.)
Branding has a tendency to change with the times, regardless of whether you are a start-up or a large, multinational corporation. Because of this, if you are looking to save money, then your first trademark registration should be for your name. Even if your logo combines both your name and some design elements, you don’t want to pour money into a logo that might change if you haven’t already protected your name. And if your marketing plans call for the use of several different branding elements in different contexts, then ideally, you want to register each of those elements as separate trademarks (or at least plan to do so as budget permits).
In the law, there’s almost always an exception to every rule. While a word mark is generally the best place to start protecting your brand, there are situations where you might need to take a different approach. For example:
If brand identity is important to the growth and success of your business, then you need both a plan and a budget for protecting your trademarks.