Trademark basics

What you should know before filing

The trademark application process is a legal proceeding governed by U.S. law

  • If you are a foreign-domiciled applicant, you must have a U.S.-licensed attorney represent you at the USPTO.
  • If you are an applicant domiciled in the United States, you are not required to have a U.S.-licensed attorney represent you, but we strongly encourage you to hire one who specializes in trademark law to guide you through the application process.
  • Foreign attorneys and non-attorneys are not permitted to provide legal advice, help you fill out a form, sign documents for you, or otherwise take action on your application for you.
  • Hiring someone who cannot represent you at the USPTO could delay review of your application and jeopardize the validity of any resulting registration.

Your application must meet many legal requirements before your trademark can be registered 

  • Is your trademark federally registrable? Can you properly identify your goods or services? Can you identify the proper filing basis for your application? If you’re not sure how to answer these and other questions, review this webpage to avoid mistakes that cost you time, money, and potentially your legal rights.
  • The TEAS new application tutorial takes you through the necessary steps before you file through filling out your online application form.
  • The trademark registration process is a legal proceeding that requires you to act within strict deadlines (based on Eastern Time). See the trademark application and post-registration timelines.
  • Information you submit will become public record and will permanently remain searchable in USPTO online databases, Internet search engines, and other databases.  This includes your name, phone number, email address, and street address.  For more, see the Personal Information in Trademark Records.

Basic facts about Trademarks: What every small business should know now, not later

This simulated presentation features reporters from the USPTO's news broadcast-style video series, the Trademark Information Network (TMIN). While the setup is staged for educational purposes, the information provided is real.

The video is a must for anyone interested in starting a business to sell a product or offer a service. It highlights the important role of trademarks in that process, including a discussion of how trademarks, patents, copyrights, domain names, and business name registrations all differ. It gives guidelines on how to select the right mark—one that is both federally registrable and legally protectable. It also explains the benefits of federal registration and suggests free and reduced-price resources that can help you with your trademark. By the end of the video, you'll understand why having a trademark component of your business plan is critical to your success.

NOTE: The run time for this video is approximately 42 minutes, so please allow adequate viewing time. If you do not have time to watch at one time, you may wish to watch the Basic Facts about Trademarks animated series, which covers the same information using user-friendly visuals in shorter video segments. Alternatively, if you wish to read the information (instead of watch a video), you may download the Basic Facts About Trademarks booklet that covers the same material.

After watching this video, if you have any questions about proper mark selection (one that is both federally registrable and legally protectable) or the benefits of federal registration, please feel free to email The Office may answer general questions, but may not provide specific legal advice. For legal advice, please consider contacting a private attorney who specializes in intellectual property.

Before filing your application, be sure to watch the Trademark Information Network (“TMIN”), the USPTO’s news broadcast-style video series that covers important topics and critical application filing tips.




What is a Trademark or Service Mark and How do they differ from Patents and Copyrights?

A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.

This animated video explains how trademarks, patents, copyrights and also domain names and business names all differ.



It is important to understand whether you should file for a trademark/service mark, a patent, and/or a copyright. While all are types of intellectual property, each protects something very specific. In addition to watching the video above, you can study how trademarks, patents, and copyrights differ to ensure you are making the proper filing decision at the outset of the filing process.

How do I select a strong mark?

It is vitally important that you select or create a trademark that is both federally registrable and legally protectable. This animated video will help you understand how a strong trademark identifies the source of your goods and services, as well as distinguishes them from the goods and services of others.




Should I register my Trademark?

Although federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, it has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.

This animated video explains the benefits of a federal trademark registration and how to put people on notice that your mark is registered with the USPTO.



Hire a Trademark attorney?

If you are a foreign-domiciled applicant, you must have a U.S.-licensed attorney represent you at the USPTO. Non-U.S.-licensed attorneys and non-attorneys may give you inaccurate information and legal advice about your trademark rights and the registration process in the United States.

If you are domiciled in the United States, you are not required to have a U.S.-licensed attorney represent you, but we strongly encourage you to hire one who specializes in trademark law to guide you through the application process. Although USPTO staff can provide information about the federal application process, USPTO employees cannot give you legal advice or help you fill out forms.

Why hire a private trademark attorney

This animated video explains what the Trademark Office does and does not do. It also explains what kind of assistance is available to you during the application process, as well as factors to consider when deciding whether to hire an attorney to represent you.



Other initial considerations

Before starting the application process, it is important to have clearly in mind (1) the mark you want to register; (2) the goods and/or services in connection with which you wish to register the mark; and (3) whether you will be filing the application based on actual existing use of the mark or a bona fide intention to use the mark in the future. This will make your search of the USPTO database more useful and may simplify the application process. More details on mark types, goods and services, filing basis, and searching are provided in the next four sections. 

Identifying your trademark: Select one of three possible formats

An important consideration is the depiction of your mark. Every application must include a clear representation of the mark you want to register. We use this representation to file the mark in the USPTO search records and to print the mark in the Official Gazette (OG) and on the registration certificate. The OG, a weekly online publication, gives notice to the public that the USPTO plans to issue a registration.

For further information about this topic, please watch a news broadcast-style video on "Drawing Issues" (video #5 in the Trademark Information Network (TMIN) series). 

Identifying your goods and/or services

Once you have chosen your mark, you must also be able to identify the goods and/or services to which the mark will apply, clearly and precisely. The identification of goods and/or services must be specific enough to identify the nature of the goods and/or services. The level of specificity depends on the type of goods and/or services. For examples of acceptable identifications, please consult the Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual (ID Manual). NOTE: Under U.S. Trademark law, class headings from the International Schedule of Classes of Goods and Services by themselves are not acceptable for registration purposes. The specific items of goods and/ or services must be listed.

Applications for trademarks used on regulated products (e.g. cannabis, drug paraphernalia, ivory, whalebone) and activities (e.g. gambling and wagering, retail stores featuring controlled substances) are subject to additional review. See our Laws and Regulations page for more information. 

For further information about this topic, please watch a news broadcast-style video on "Goods and Services" (video #6 in the Trademark Information Network (TMIN) series). 

Searching marks in USPTO database

You should search the USPTO database before filing your application, to determine whether anyone already claims trademark rights in a particular mark through a federal registration. Failure to conduct a proper search may result in your not making a proper assessment as to whether an application should even be filed.

For further information about this topic, please watch a news broadcast-style video on "Searching" (video #3 in the Trademark Information Network (TMIN) series). 

Identifying the proper "Basis" for filing a Trademark application

A trademark application must specify the proper "basis" for filing, most likely either a current use of the mark in commerce or an intent to use the mark in commerce in the future. Understanding the distinction between these filing bases, and the implications of selecting one, are important considerations before starting the application process.

For further information about this topic, please watch a news broadcast-style video on "Filing Basis Information" (video #7 in the Trademark Information Network (TMIN) series). 

Filing a Trademark application

You must must file your trademark application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), with limited exceptions. Review the TEAS tutorial or watch short videos explaining how to fill out the application.

Paying required fees

What the proper filing fee is for your application will be based specifically on three distinct factors. It is important to understand these variables, as it may impact how you may wish to proceed. Also, be aware that the filing fee is a processing fee that the USPTO will not refund, even if you ultimately do not receive a registration for your mark. View trademark fee information

Monitoring status of your application

You are responsible for monitoring the progress of your application through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. You must check the status of your application at least every 3-6 months after the initial filing of the application, because otherwise you may miss a filing deadline. Please review the additional information on checking status to ensure you understand this important step in the overall registration process. 

Protecting your rights

You are responsible for enforcing your rights if you receive a registration because the USPTO does not "police" the use of trademarks. While the USPTO attempts to ensure that no other party receives a federal registration for an identical or similar mark for or as applied to related goods/services, the owner of a registration is responsible for bringing any legal action to stop a party from using an infringing mark. 

Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure

For additional information on various topics, you may also wish to consult another USPTO electronic resource, the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP). The TMEP provides trademark examining attorneys in the USPTO, trademark applicants, and attorneys and representatives for trademark applicants with a reference work on the current law, practices, and procedures relative to the federal trademark application and registration process. The TMEP contains information and guidelines designed to assist USPTO examining attorneys in reviewing trademark application. This information also may be useful to an applicant to better understand the trademark application process. The TMEP includes an alphabetical index by subject matter to help users locate pertinent information. 

Other government resources for Trademark owners

  1. Record Trademarks with Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  2. State Trademark Links
  3. Related non-USPTO Links
  4. Fastener Quality Act (FQA)
  5. Geographical Indications
  6. Native American Tribal Insignia