Establishing and maintaining a brand is crucial to any business’s success. Many of the most successful and well-known brands have a unique logo, name, or packaging design that easily distinguishes them from the competition. Take the brand Nike, for example, one of the world’s leading fitness apparel companies. People everywhere recognize the infamous Nike lightning bolt logo and are familiar with the brand it represents. The food industry is no different. In fact, building and protecting your brand’s reputation is the best way to set your business apart in such a crowded industry. One of the first and most important steps in building brand identity is registering a trademark for your food product. Having a registered trademark for your food product will help set your product apart from the competition, and it will make it easier for customers to recognize your brand and avoid confusion with other products on the market.
A trademark is a legally protected name, logo, design, word, or symbol representing your business or an individual product. Having a registered trademark is a way to legally ensure no other companies try to sell a product using your name or logo. There are thousands of trademarked food products on the market. For example, “Lay’s” is a trademarked name, which means that no other company can sell a product using that name. “Pepsi” is another well-known trademarked product. Only PEPSICO, Inc., can sell products using that famous name and symbol. Trademarks help consumers know where the products they buy are coming from. Trademarks also prevent competitors from intentionally or unintentionally stealing or using your product name, design, or logo to sell their own products, which can be both confusing to customers and harmful to your business.
When it comes to food products, it may not be only names and logos that can be trademarked. You may also be able to trademark other distinctive product attributes. For example, if the shape, color, packaging, or other design element is distinctive to your product, you may be able to have it trademarked. This is likely if your product has a distinguishing and unique feature that other companies could emulate to trick customers. If other food producers could copy it to trick people into buying their product, thinking it’s yours, you can probably have it trademarked and prevent that from happening.
What cannot be protected by trademark laws are product recipes or specific elements of the production or formulation process. Trademarks can only protect the way your product appears on the shelf. Your trademark protects that product’s name, packaging, and logo, but not the product recipe or the specific way it’s made. To legally safeguard the product recipe itself, you should consider trade secret protection as a line of defense. Trade secret protection is a separate and distinctive legal process different from the trademark process.
There are four main steps to getting your food product trademark and ensuring your product and reputation’s continued legal protection. Trademarks are managed by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which oversees all trademark applications and keeps records of every company’s registered trademarks.
The first step in starting your trademark registration process is choosing an appropriate name for your product, business, or both. This is the first and most crucial step in registering your trademark and successfully marketing and selling your product. Choose a fitting name that is easy to remember and appeals to your food product’s prospective consumers; it is crucial to any good business strategy. The name you choose needs to be original. It’s impossible to trademark generic, descriptive terms, so you will need to develop something unique. For example, the general description “Potato Chips” cannot be trademarked, and neither can “Potato Making Company.” Instead, most companies making potato chips come up with a completely original name or word to coin, such as “Lay’s,” “Pringles,” or “Ruffles.”
After you’ve settled on a product or brand name, the next step is to make sure no one else is already using it, or something very similar, as either a brand or a product name. To conduct a thorough trademark search, you will have to do a bit more legwork than running a simple Google search. While USPTO has some search devices available for public use, these tools are not very thorough or reliable. The best option is to talk to an experienced trademark and patent lawyer. A trademark attorney has access to the necessary search tools and the experience to know exactly what to look for and how to conduct a fruitful search.
When conducting your search, a trademark attorney will look for details the USPTO is likely to examine when reviewing your trademark registration application. When reviewing your application, the USPTO will scan their records of existing trademarks, looking for similar-sounding or looking names and logos, which could confuse the public. Similarities in spelling variations, capitalization, and spacing, as well as color schemes and fonts, are just a few of the details USPTO will be looking at when reviewing your trademark registration application. For example, if you are trying to sell potato chips packaged in a yellow bag with the name “Ray’s,” not only will your trademark application probably be denied, but you could find yourself facing trademark infringement violations and a lawsuit from Lay’s brand.
After choosing the perfect name for your product and working with your trademark attorney to make sure the name is unique, the next step is to submit your application. In your application, you will need to include all relevant details concerning your product. You will describe exactly what you are bringing to the market and how it is unique. Along with your product’s name, you can also include design elements, including logos, fonts, and packaging.
The USPTO works with many different types of products and businesses. They have 34 different trademark categories, three of which are for food products. You will need to consult your attorney to ensure you select and apply for the correct category. Submitting a complete trademark application is a crucial step to securing your trademark registration, and working closely with your trademark attorney while completing the application is key. The USPTO has strict procedures and classifications and receives many trademark applications per day. If there are any errors in your application, or if any minor but essential details have been left out, your application will be sent back for correction and clarification, or it could be denied. To avoid this, work with your attorney to make sure the application is filled out correctly and contains all the necessary elements.
After submitting your trademark registration application, you will need to wait for the USPTO to approve your application. It usually takes about six to eight months for the USPTO to review an application and deliver the result. This process could take even longer if any changes need to be made to your application. If your application meets all the necessary criteria and your request is approved, it means you now have access to complete legal protection and rights to your product name, logo, packaging, and design. However, it’s up to you to ensure no one tries to use your trademarked name or logo to sell their product. The USPTO grants you your trademark, but it is your job to make sure no other businesses infringe on your rights. You will need to keep a diligent eye on the market to ensure your trademark rights are not violated or hire an attorney to monitor your trademark.
Unfortunately, your USPTO-approved trademark does not apply in any country other than the US unless specifically registered in that country. Each country handles its own trademark registrations. Therefore, if you wish to market your product in a country outside of the US, you should first register your trademark in that country. Because trademarks registered in one country do not apply in other countries, this means that imitators from other countries can use your name, logo, and designs with no legal repercussions. You can prevent this by registering your trademark internationally. Your trademark attorney can help you decide whether you should pursue international trademarks.
If you are ready to protect your product name, logo, design, packaging, and reputation of your product and your business, contact an experienced trademark lawyer right away to get started securing your trademark. Four Reasons Legal has the experience and expertise necessary to guide you through the entire trademark registration process, including selecting a name for your product or business as well as completing a thorough application that meets all necessary criteria. If you have more questions about trademark law, wish to begin your trademark application, or help protect your trademark rights, contact Four Reasons Legal today.