Last Published: 10/29/2019

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reviews trademark applications and determines whether an application meets the requirements for federal registration. You can also establish rights in a mark based on legitimate use of the mark. However, owning a Federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides several advantages, including the following:

  • Constructive notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark;
  • A legal presumption of the registrant's ownership of the mark and the registrant's exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the registration;
  • The ability to bring an action concerning the mark in Federal court;
  • The use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries; and
  • The ability to file the U.S. registration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

Any time you claim rights in a mark, you may use the "TM" (trademark) or "SM" (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO. However, you may use the Federal registration symbol "®" only after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending. Also, you may use the registration symbol with the mark only on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the Federal trademark registration.

Starting the Process

Step 1: Is your product eligible for a trademark?

Most U.S. applicants base their application on their current use of the mark in commerce, or their intent to use their mark in commerce in the future. What is "use in commerce"? For the purpose of obtaining Federal registration, "commerce" means all commerce that the U.S. Congress may lawfully regulate; for example, interstate commerce or commerce between the U.S. and another country. "Use in commerce" must be a bona fide use of the mark in the ordinary course of trade, and not use simply made to reserve rights in the mark.

Generally, acceptable use is as follows:

For goods: the mark must appear on the goods, the container for the goods, or displays associated with the goods, and the goods must be sold or transported in commerce.

For services: the mark must be used or displayed in the sale or advertising of the services, and the services must be rendered in commerce.

If you have already started using the mark in commerce, you may file based on that use. A "use" based application must include a sworn statement (usually in the form of a declaration) that the mark is in use in commerce, listing the date of first use of the mark anywhere and the date of first use of the mark in commerce. A properly worded declaration is included in the USPTO standard application form. The applicant or a person authorized to sign on behalf of the applicant must sign the statement. The application should include a specimen showing use of the mark in commerce.

Step 2: Conduct a trademark search

The next step is to search our database, before filing your application, to determine whether anyone is already claiming trademark rights in a particular mark. You may conduct a search online for free via our TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) database. If your mark includes a design element, you will need to search it by using a design code. To locate the proper design code(s), please consult the Design Search Code Manual.

Registering a Trademark

You may file your trademark application online using TEAS - the Trademark Electronic Application System. TEAS allows you to fill out an application form and check it for completeness, and then submit the application directly to the USPTO over the Internet. You can pay by credit card, through an existing USPTO deposit account, or via electronic funds transfer.

You may also contact the Trademark Assistance Center for a hard copy of the Basic Facts brochure, or a paper form. Paper forms are not processed as quickly as those submitted electronically, however.

Registering a Trademark Overseas

Federal registration is not valid outside the United States. However, if you are a qualified owner of a trademark application pending before the USPTO, or of a registration issued by the USPTO, you may seek registration in any of the countries that have joined the Madrid Protocol by filing a single application, called an "international application," with the International Bureau of the World Property Intellectual Organization, through the USPTO.

Also, certain countries recognize a United States registration as a basis for filing an application to register a mark in those countries under international treaties. See TMEP Chapter 1000 for further information. The laws of each country regarding registration must be consulted.

For more information on filing for a trademark in the United States contact the USPTO at (800) 786-9199 or (703) 308-4357.  To file electronically, visit TEAS.