One of the least expensive -- yet most far reaching -- steps your business can take is to register your trademark and service mark with the federal government. For a reasonable fee, this registration provides a nationwide blanket of protection for any name or mark that you use, or intend to use, between at least two states.

Americans can also get international protection under the Madrid Protocol, an international treaty that allows trademark owners to seek registration in more than 60 member countries by filing a single application.

The federal registration procedure is overseen by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, D.C., and generally takes between 12 and 14 months. Once granted, federal registration affords a substantial package of legal rights and safeguards. Take a look:

  • The registrant is permitted to use the well-known ® symbol. The owner can stop infringers nationwide and obtain a host of legal remedies including lost profits, attorney fees and punitive damages. In some cases the infringing goods can be destroyed.
  • After five years, the registered mark is eligible for "incontestable" status, which means that it is virtually unassailable in court.
  • Unlike patents -- which expire -- trademark registrations can be renewed for successive ten year terms, as long as the mark is still in use. Contrary to popular belief, registering your corporate or fictitious name with a state office doesn't provide these legal rights. It must be done on the federal level.

Very few legal safeguards provide the level of protection you can get with a federal trademark and service mark registration. It is indeed one of the best legal bargains in America.

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