When launching a new business, one of your first priorities should be to secure the appropriate legal protection for your company’s intellectual property (IP). Depending on the type of IP involved, this can require securing patents, trademarks, and/or copyrights.
Among the very first IP elements you’ll want to protect is your company’s brand name and logo. This is done by registering for trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Since you’re just getting your company up and running, you probably won’t have a huge budget to spend on protecting your IP, so you’ll most likely want to find a reasonably priced trademark registration service. But with so many different trademark services out there, it can be challenging to tell the legit operations from the not-so-legit. And as with all types of DIY legal services you find online, you should approach web-based trademark registration services with extreme caution.
On that note, in this two-part series, we’ll discuss four warning signs to watch for when choosing a trademark registration service. Although we recommend that you always work with an experienced business lawyer like us to register your company’s trademarks and other IP protections, if you do choose to take the DIY route, here are a few of the red flags you should watch for.
Warning Sign #1: The price is too low
Do a Google search for “low cost trademark registration,” and you’ll find hundreds of services to choose from, with prices starting as low as $49 and running all the up to $500+. If everyone is basically offering the same service, why do the rates they charge vary so dramatically?
To answer this question, you must first understand a bit about how trademark registration works. By knowing what the trademark registration process entails, you’ll be much better positioned to spot those deals that are simply too good to be true.
Successfully registering a trademark with the USPTO is not a super quick or easy process. Indeed, securing a trademark for your brand involves a number of detailed steps. And from start to finish, the entire procedure can take up to a year or more to complete.
A basic summary of the trademark registration process includes the following steps:
If your trademark isn’t properly filed, it can be rejected at any stage during this process. In fact, 68% of all trademark applications are initially rejected during the formal examination stage. And for those applications filed without the support of a lawyer, the rejection rate increases to 81%.
When the USPTO rejects a trademark application, the applicant receives a letter explaining the reasons for refusal known as an “office action.” It’s possible to receive multiple office actions over the course of the entire trademark process. While some office actions are simple and only take an hour or two to respond to, responding to more complex actions can take even experienced trademark lawyers upwards of 20 hours or more.
Given that the average hourly rate of trademark attorneys runs between $300 to $500, do you really believe that your application is going to be carefully reviewed by an experienced lawyer when you paid $49, $175, or even $300?
At those prices, the chances of a lawyer even glancing at your application—much less spending any time actually correcting it—is close to zero. Instead, at those prices, you’d most likely get a service that requires you to fill out a form on its website, and it automatically formats the data you provided in the form to fit the government application, which it then files on your behalf.
In such cases, you would not have an attorney of record or a registered trademark agent handling your application—you’d be representing yourself. And as with any legal matter, representing yourself is a huge gamble. That said, if your application just happens to be straightforward enough to make it through all of those stages and get approved without any office actions being filed, you’ve definitely hit the jackpot!
While it is possible to secure a trademark without a lawyer’s assistance, your chances of success are quite low. As mentioned earlier, only 19% of trademark applications filed by individuals without legal representation are successfully approved without any additional modification. The other 81% get rejected—unless the appropriate actions are taken to fix them.
Problem is, without any legal knowledge or experience, it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to fix your application on your own, and would need to pay a lawyer $300 to $500 per hour—on top of what you already paid—to help you get it right. If those odds sound good to you, by all means go ahead and test your luck.
However, if you aren’t much into gambling, you should view the bottom-of-the-barrel prices as a big warning sign, and reach out to a Family Business Lawyer™ instead. Although a Family Business Lawyer™ charges significantly more than $49, when you hire one to file your trademark application, you’ll be paying a flat fee that covers the entire process, from the initial brand search all the way to final registration, with no billable hours, hidden fees, or nasty surprises.
Speaking of surprises, next week in part two of this series, we’ll discuss the hidden meanings behind several marketing slogans that are commonly used to advertise less-than-trustworthy trademark registration services.