Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Starting a Business in California

When starting a business in California, start your research at these two sites:

California Business Portal & The Secretary of State's Starting a Business page.

On the SOS' page, you'll see the Secretary of State details 5 recommended steps:

1) Write a business plan

Here are a couple of posts I've devoted to this subject -
Business Plans: A Quick Guide and Piecing Together the Business Plan.

The Small Business Administration has a
handy page about writing a business plan.

2) Deciding on a location for your business

If you need assistance, check out the Labor & Workforce Development Agency's
Business Investment Services page.

3) Choose a business structure

Entrepreneur has a great article on this subject,
Choose Your Business Structure.

4) Taxes

here for those documents.

5) License & Permits

Check both of these sites:
CalGOLD and the CA Department of Consumer Affairs.

The Secretary of State also has a listing of business resources - check

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fun With Graphs

Every year the USPTO publishes an online Performance and Accountability Report, which contains some pretty interesting statistics about patents & trademarks. I used this site to create a couple of graphs to provide a visual on these stats.

A 27% increase in 4 years is pretty significant. The increase every year goes to show how important folks are taking their trademarks & brand identity.

The above is a 5 year look at the number of registrations issued. As you can see, the number of applications filed versus those that move to registration differ greatly. This is going to be for a number of reasons -- refusals, abandonments, oppositions, etc.

Look at 2006 - 128,672 applications never made it to registration. Even if each one of those applications consisted of only 1 class filed, that's a total of $41,818,400. Let's even say that all 128,672 applications used TEAS Plus -- that's still a total of $35,384,800! That's staggering.

There's all sorts of statistics available so I'll be devoting a couple of more posts on the various findings.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Starting a Business in...

Being in the trademark biz, we get a lot of questions from folks about starting their own business in their state of residence. Admittedly, I don't know a lot of the ins & outs required for each state. I think it's high time I educated myself.

That being said, I'm going to dedicate a post a week to the various resources, steps & sites for each state. Once a week seems to be a good pace. I think anything more than that would make this blog a bit of a boring read.

Anyone have a state in mind they'd like to know more about? If so, leave a comment or email me at shannon@tmexpress.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Logo Search: Trudging through the USPTO

Searching for designs on the USPTO site is a bit tricky. I'll explain it step by step.

First, go to this link. This is the searchable design search code manual. Type in simple keywords that describe your logo. For instance, typing in telephone brings up the 6-digit codes for telephones, telephone poles, answering machines, etc. Make note of all the 6-digit codes relevant to your logo.

Second, go to this link. This is the main trademark hub page. From here you'll see 2 columns. Look at the right hand side for a link that's titled Search. Click on that.

Now click on Structured Form Search (boolean). In the first search term box, type in the 6-digit code, no spaces & no dots. Change the field to Design Code. Stopping here will likely result in too many hits to look at so let's use the rest of the search boxes to narrow it a bit.

Change the operator to AND. In the next search term box, choose one keyword that describes your goods/services, e.g. clothing, software, etc. Change the field to Goods & Services. Now click Submit Query.

You should then see a listing of marks that you can view in more detail.

I've been in the trademark field for 14 years & I do not recommend that anyone conduct this logo search & consider themselves to be done. There are so many nuances within the USPTO as well as with trademarks in general that the likelihood of missing something is high. However, I feel the above provides a good snapshot of how involved searching logos can be & is a nice primer for those folks interested in protecting their logo.

You've got to keep the USPTO's guidelines in mind. Logos need not necessarily be exact to be considered a similarity. They take into consideration things such as similarities in Appearance or Meaning as well as similarity in industry. Your logo may look like one definite thing to you but you have to emotionally detach yourself from it & see all the inherent possibilities. It's those possibilities that will also have to be searched.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Copyrights & Trademarks: Do You Need Both?

Protecting the intellectual property aspects of your business is a worthwhile investment. However, it is difficult to know what form of intellectual property works for what facets of your business. Let's take the time to break all that down.


Copyrights can be obtained for things of an artistic nature. This includes, of course, poetry, films, sculptures, music, fiction, etc. But can also include things that may not necessarily seem "artistic" in the general sense of the word. Copyrights can also be obtained for advertising copy, games, software programs and blueprints, to name just a few.

To protect text as it appears on advertising copy, speeches, pamphlets, brochures,
online works, reports, etc. a Literary Works application would be filed.

To protect pictorial or graphic items such as technical drawings, posters, labels, games, etc. a
Visual Art Works application would be filed.

Only a few items that could be protected by copyright are noted here so if you have other items in mind, please feel free to email me at
Shannon@tmexpress.com and I can point you in the right direction.

Trademarks: A "registered trademark", or ®, refers to a name, slogan or logo that has been officially registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registering a trademark is beneficial to a business because it publicly states that your trademark is registered with the USPTO and therefore, you have exclusive rights to that name within your industry.

Prior to investing your time, money & effort into a name, it is strongly advised that comprehensive research be conducted to ensure that the name you're interested in is truly available.

This entails searching the pending & registered Federal and State trademark files as well as the US National Common-Law files. Then, if clear, you can decide if you would like to file for a Federal or a State trademark.

Mention our blog & get $25 off of our Research & Application Package.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Small Business Trademarks: Who Needs 'Em?

Anyone that's started a small business or is in the throes of starting a small business knows how overwhelming it can be just to get to opening day. You've got licenses & permits to think about, what sort of business entity structure is right, where the money is going to come from, and on and on. Phew! While it can almost be too overwhelming, your entrepreneurial drive and your passion for your business will get you through it.

Now when it comes to your business name, we can all agree that that's an important, if not the most important feature of your business. Your
small business name is the face, if you will, of your products and/or services. It's how your customers will come to know you, how they'll get back to you and how they'll refer you to new customers.

Let's say you found the perfect name for your small business. What a lot of folks do at this point is usually a misstep – filing for a business entity under it, printing business cards, launching a web site, etc. There really is no point in investing in a business name until you know that the name is legally available.

If you had to change the business name AFTER you've done those things, you're losing on precious resources, such as time, money & effort.

So your first step after you've decided on your
small business name is to research it to ensure that no one else had the same bright idea before you did. There's some preliminary research you should do; check this article for further details. Once it clears the preliminary stage, look into getting a comprehensive trademark search.

Now let's say your small business name has cleared the comprehensive search stage (yay!). Does your small business name need a trademark? Now being in the trademark business, you'd think our position would be why yes of course! However, filing for a trademark is not necessarily going to be the right fit for your business or plans. You'll have to decide that.

As long as no one has prior trademark or common-law rights to the name, you can operate with your common-law rights – thousands upon thousands of small businesses do this very thing.

One point to keep in mind is the importance of your name to your business identity. Let's look at some examples to illustrate further when a trademark is appropriate:

You're designing a clothing line and your logo/name combination is an integral part of your advertising campaign as well as appearing on all the tags and labels on the garments – your brand identity is important to your business so seriously consider filing for a Federal trademark.

You're opening a local tax preparation company and want to use a name that's somewhat generic, such as
Tax Solutions -- since your use is local, a Federal trademark would not apply but a State trademark would. Also the name is pretty generic so trying to obtain exclusive rights to the name may not be possible.

Read more about the advantages to having a Federal trademark here.

Even if you decide that a trademark isn't for you, don't forget you still need a
comprehensive search on the name.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

US Patent & Trademark Office: Navigating the Web Site

Anyone that's had to slog through a governmental web site knows how confusing it can be at times. That being said, let's take a virtual walk together through the web site of the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Start at the
home page.

You'll see a headline of sorts along with 3 columns of information. Left hand column are a series of links that drop down to show even more links – more about this to follow. The middle column is the site's top news with various headlines and blurbs. The right hand column are banner links that go to various pages/sites, such as the Department of Commerce, Kids' Pages, jobs at the USPTO, etc.

Left hand column – we're going to concentrate on 2 of the 13 available links.

Click on Patents – a drop down should open with a series of numbered links.

Let's take a look at a few a bit closer:

The very first link, not numbered,
Patents main page takes you to the hub of the US patent universe. This is the main page where you can access all of the other related patent links.

Link #1
About Patents takes you right back to that main page, which is confusing. Ignore that. Instead from the main page, click on Basic Facts About Patents. This will give you a good idea of what a patent actually is.

Link #5 Search Patents takes you to the USPTO Patent Search page. From here you can search issued or published applications.

Link #6 File Online in EFS-Web takes you to the Patent Electronic Business Center. From here you can also search patents as well as file a patent application.

Back to the home page.

Link #1
Where Do I Start? is a great place to start. This page provides a pretty thorough road map of the trademark process.

Link #3
Search TM database takes you to the Trademark Electronic Search System. From here you can do a preliminary check of the Federal trademarks.

Link #4
File Online Forms goes to the Trademark Electronic Application System where you'd file a trademark application electronically.

Link #5
Check Status is the page every trademark owner should bookmark. This is where you can check your status using your Serial Number.

Link #6 View Full Files allows you to view all the associated documents with many of the Federal trademark filings. For instance, you can view your application or specimens. Also, if you receive an Office Action, a copy will be available here.

And there's a brief walk through of the most important patent and trademark links on the US Patent and Trademark Office web site. There are many more of course but the ones detailed above are those that will be most helpful to those starting the patent and trademark processes.