Small Business Advice

How long does a trademark last?

If you're interested in registering a trademark, chances are you’re wondering how long it lasts. Here’s a detailed guide on the amount of time a trademark is good for and how you can renew it.

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A trademark is any word, insignia, symbol, design, phrase, or a combination of the aforementioned things that denotes a company’s goods or services. As a business owner, it essentially differentiates your products from other similar products, making it easy for customers to identify yours. That’s why using a trademark passes as one of the best ways to distinguish your business from competitors.

Although the word “trademark” is often used for goods and services alike, trademarks actually refer to goods while service marks refer to services. Thus, if your business trades goods, you may apply for trademarks for those goods. But if it’s a service company, then you will register service marks for the services you provide.

For all intents and purposes, we will use “trademarks” to refer to trademarks and service marks, as we explain how they work and how you can register for one. We also answer one of the most asked questions: how long does a trademark last?

Key takeaways

  • A trademark is a word, insignia, symbol, design, phrase, or combination of those things, designed to denote a company’s goods or services.
  • You can use a trademark in your locality without registering it. But if you want to use the trademark nationwide, you must register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
  • Once registered, a trademark can last forever as long as you keep renewing it.
  • The first trademark renewal is due after six years, while subsequent renewals are due after every 10 years.

How does a trademark work?

Generally, trademarks serve the following functions:

  • Identify your products, including their source
  • Guard your products against fraud and counterfeiting
  • Offer legal protection for your business and brand

That said, a trademark registration doesn’t mean you own the word, image, phrase or insignia used to create the trademark. You therefore cannot prevent others from using it just because it appears in your trademark. However, you do have a say in how it can be used for products that are similar to yours1.

Say, for example, that you use your logo as a trademark for your landscaping company. You may prevent other landscaping businesses from using a similar logo, but you can’t prevent those that are not in the landscaping field from using it. So, a computer seller may legally pick and use the same logo as you.

Difference between owning and registering a trademark

As a trader, you automatically become a trademark owner the moment you start using it with your goods or services. You don’t need to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); the mere act of starting to use it gives you trademark rights.

However, those rights will be limited and only applicable to the geographical area where you provide your goods or services. If you want nationwide trademark rights, you will have to register the mark with the USPTO.

Therefore, you don’t need to register a trademark to own it. However, an unregistered mark comes with geographically limited rights. In case you want to use it nationwide, consider a federal trademark registration with the Trademark Office. Once it’s registered, you may add the symbol ® (R inside a circle) to your trademark as proof that it is indeed registered. Only products that are listed on the USPTO’s principal register can use this symbol.

If you simply own a trademark but haven’t registered it, you may either use TM or SM alongside your trademark. Both of these symbols inform the public that your sign is trademarked (but not registered)1. You can also register the trademark at state level. While this will allow you to use the mark unchallenged all over the state, it won’t offer the same protection to your brand as a trademark that’s registered at federal level.

How to register a trademark

To register a trademark, you will need to file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can do that online via the USPTO website, which offers two trademark application options:

  • Trademark Electronic Application system (TEAS) Standard
  • Trademark Electronic Application system (TEAS) Plus

The main difference between TEAS Standard and TEAS Plus is that the latter has a more streamlined trademark registration process, making it easier for the applicant2. It is also cheaper. The initial trademark application fee for TEAS Plus is $250 per class of goods or services, which is lower than the $350 that you will pay if you use TEAS Standard.

Keep in mind that application fees are charged per class of goods or services. If, for example, your small business sells chemical products (which fall in class 1) and paint products (which fall in class 2), it means that you will file trademark registration for two different classes. Therefore, you will pay the application fee twice – the first fee for class one (chemical products) and the second fee for class two (paint products). As you may have guessed, the more classes of goods you have, the higher the cost of registering a trademark. Here’s a list of all trademark classes3 to help you categorize your products.

Besides, you will be charged a fee for every trademark you register. Thus, if you plan to use two different trademarks for your products – say one for woodwork that you sell and another for metal work – you will have to pay a fee for each of the two trademarks. It follows that the more marks you register, the higher the cost. Of course, you can avoid this by using a single trademark for all your products.

Overall, your trademark registration fee will be determined by 1) the number of marks you’re planning to register, the number of classes under which your products fall, and 3) whether you use TEAS Standard or TEAS Plus.

But that’s not all, you may also be charged additional fees if you register an intent-to-use application. This may happen under two conditions:

  • You are requesting an extension of time to show that you, in fact, use a particular trademark. You will be charged additional fees of $125 per class if the mark was not part of your initial trademark application.
  • You are showing use of a trademark that was not part of the initial trademark application. In which case, you will be charged additional fees of $100 per class4.

Once you have the necessary fees, you may proceed to register your trademark. It’s a pretty straightforward process. First, define your trademark, indicate the time when you started using it and specify the products and/or services that the trademark will apply to. Check the USPTO’s list of classifications for goods and services to know whether you can apply one trademark to all your products or if you will need more than one trademark on account of your products falling under different classes.

Secondly, head over to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website and submit your trademark application. You will need to include a graphic or image of your trademark, and provide an explanation on how the trademark will be used.

The USPTO will examine your trademark to check whether or not it is eligible for federal registration. A trademark may be ineligible if it contains marks with:

  • Government insignia
  • The U.S. flag
  • Immoral or scandalous symbols
  • Name or likeness of a dead U.S. president
  • Trademarks that are only permitted for use in one state
  • Symbols that are disrespectful to living or dead people, or property.

If your trademark doesn’t contain any of the above, the USPTO will likely deem it eligible for federal registration. In which case, it will publish your trademark in its official and online gazettes to inform the public that the trademark is in the registration process. Everyone is given a chance to object to the trademark and justify (through a hearing) why they are objecting to it. In case there are no objections, the USPTO will proceed to register your trademark.

The trademark registration process can take quite some time – up to several years. This is, for the most part, because of the legal requirements involved. As you wait for the trademark to be registered, you may file a statement or declaration of continuous use with the USPTO. This document basically prevents other people from attempting to register your trademark as their own. You may also file a statement or declaration of incontestability to ward off any disputes that someone may want to bring regarding your trademark. You will find the necessary forms for filing a statement of continued use and statement of incontestability on the USPTO’s website.

How long does a trademark last?

As you plan for a federal registration, you may be wondering: how long is a trademark good for? The short answer is that it can last forever. Unlike copyrights and patents that usually expire, trademarks don’t have an expiration as long as they are continually renewed. However, just like the other two, trademarks are types of intellectual property.

When you register a trademark with the USPTO for the first time, you get protection for six years, after which you must renew. Thereafter, the trademark must be renewed after every 10 years. Thus, subsequent renewals must be filed anywhere between the 9th and 10th year after the previous renewal. This ten-year span is known as a grace period.

It’s worth mentioning that trademarks registered before November 16, 1989 have a 20-year grace period. But the legal requirements have since changed, and any marks registered after that date enjoy a maximum grace period of 10 years. If after the 10th year you fail to renew your trademark, you stand to lose the federal protection that comes with a registered trademark.

Similarly, it’s considered presumptive abandonment if it is proven that you have not used your trademark in commerce for three straight years. This typically happens if a third-party (with proof) files a trademark cancellation against you. In which case, you may lose trademark protection and your trademark status will change from live to dead. Other parties can lay claim and register it as their own.

If your trademark has not been in use for three consecutive years, but you believe that it should not be canceled because the nonuse is caused by special circumstances, you may file an excusable nonuse affidavit that will allow you to keep your trademark.

How much does it cost to renew a trademark?

Generally, renewing a trademark costs $500 since you have to file Section 9 Renewal (which costs $400) and Section 8 Affidavit (which costs $100).

As already mentioned, you’re required to renew your trademark 6 years after its original date of registration, and then after every 10 years. You must always file those subsequent renewals between the 9th and 10th year after the original registration. To do so, fill and submit the USPTO Section 9 Renewal form, as well as Section 8 Affidavit form, and pay renewal fees of $400 and $100 respectively. This ensures that you’ve also accounted for the maintenance fee of the ninth year5.

If you fail to file both Section 9 and Section 8, your trademark will be canceled and you may lose it permanently. Therefore, make sure to keep track of the due dates for renewal. Remember that application for renewal should happen between the 9th and 10th year.

How does trademark renewal work?

When it comes to trademark renewal, the most important thing to keep in mind is the due date. Missing an application for renewal will directly lead to a trademark cancellation. Here’s how the renewal process works:

1st renewal

This is your first trademark renewal and is usually due five years from the date you initially registered the trademark. In this case, you will be required to file a statement of continued use (or declaration of continued use) any time between the 5th and 6th year. Meaning that you have until the sixth anniversary of your trademark to file its renewal. But of course, the earlier you renew the better.

There is a six-month grace period after the deadline, but filing within that time frame will attract an additional fee. Failure to file the renewal even after the 6-month grace period leads to a cancellation of your trademark.

The first renewal is basically a statement of affirmation that you’re still actively using your trademark. You will be required to submit a specimen proving the use of the trademark in commerce. Besides that, you may need to provide necessary information about the owner of the trademark (which is presumably your brand or company, if you are the business owner).

2nd renewal

This renewal is due nine years from the date you initially registered the trademark. Meaning you are supposed to file it anywhere between the 9th and 10th year after the original trademark registration date. If you miss the due date, you will get a six-month grace period. If you miss that as well, your trademark will be automatically canceled.

Again, you will be required to fill a renewal form (separate from the first renewal form) and submit a declaration of continued use in commerce. A successful second renewal will extend your trademark for another ten years.

3rd and subsequent renewals

The third and subsequent renewals are due after every ten years. Just like the first and second renewals, you will be required to submit maintenance documents; i.e., fill a renewal form and file a statement of continued use in commerce. Once again, this filing has a 6-month grace period that if you miss, your trademark gets automatically canceled.

The whole point of submitting maintenance documents is to prove that you indeed use the trademark. It’s based on the premise that you cannot deny others a chance to use a trademark that you don’t need or use yourself. But if you keep using and renewing it after every 10 years, then you can own a registered trademark forever.

Remember that you can always ask for legal advice whenever you are not sure about your trademark renewal process and requirements. While many law firms offer this kind of service, ideally, you will want to consult a trademark attorney within your area so that they can help with both state and federal trademark laws.

References:

  1. USPTO. “What is a trademark?” 16 March 2022, https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/what-trademark
  2. Not Just Patents LLC. “TEAS Plus vs TEAS Standard.” 11 May 2022, https://teasstandard.com/
  3. Tingen Law. “Trademark Class Basics: An Introduction to the 45 International Trademark Classes". 2 May 2022, https://tingen.law/2018/trademark-class-basics/30292/
  4. USPTO. “Trademark fee information.” 16 March 2022, https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/trademark-fee-information
  5. Eric Misterovich. “Cost of Renewing a Federal Trademark.” Revision Legal, 30 Apr. 2021, https://revisionlegal.com/trademark/trademark-lawyer/cost-of-renewing-federal-trademark-registration/
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