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Ask Dave

Getting a Trademark

Angela wants to know how to trademark words or phrases. Dave explains how the process works.

QUESTION: Angela in Tampa wants to know how to trademark words or phrases. Dave explains how the process works.

ANSWER: Why don’t you just have a single T-shirt or mug or bumper sticker made? Someone can do a mock-up for you, and then you have the phrase in use, which is what they’re looking for in the trademark world.

Then you will have to go get a federal trademark on that, and the best thing to do is hire a law firm, which will run about $3,500 to $4,500 to get something trademarked. That’s the only way you’ll be protected on it.

Trademarks are done by category, which means you would categorize it as apparel and specialty items. You aren’t trying to do automotive. You aren’t trying to name a car or a building that. Then they will do a search on it. You can Google this phrase if you haven’t already to make sure it’s not popping up somewhere else.

The general law on trademarking is: if it is not previously trademarked, then the person who uses it first has first dibs. If someone else is using it and you go trademark it, your trademark could be challenged. They will probably find that and not approve your trademark if that happens. The trick is to find out if you’re in in violation of a trademark within a category.

For instance, when we launched the course and the book EntreLeadership, that’s a word we made up. We put a federal trademark on that and put the brand in use, which you have to do on a limited basis. But before we rolled out anything big-time on the national level, we had already gotten the federal trademark in place.

If someone else uses it after that, then you have your attorney send them a letter that says you own that trademark and they are not allowed to use that. It’s called a cease-and-desist letter and you tell them to stop using it. If they don’t, you have to sue them to make them stop.

You do have to plan to defend your trademark because if it catches on, it will be stolen. We have to defend Financial Peace University pretty regularly. Some goober just decides that they can use that stuff. I don’t know where people get these ideas, but sometimes they don’t think. I accidentally violated a federal trademark one time.

We didn’t think to search it because it’s a very generic term, and we used it in a humorous way, but it didn’t matter—somebody else had the trademark. We had a mess on our hands. It was unintentional, but it was the real thing.

Trademark attorneys are pretty standard. It will take you probably six months to get it trademarked. After that, you would either start marketing it yourself or you would license it to someone. Let’s say you found a T-shirt company that wanted to use the saying. You could license the saying to them and you would earn a certain amount of money per T-shirt or make a lump sum or something like that.

But you would allow someone else to use your trademark for a fee. You can also sell it to them completely. If you have a pretty basic trademark attorney, they can walk you through that process. It’s really not rocket science once you’ve done it a couple of times. You just have to be very diligent to protect it and so forth. The first thing is to start with a good Google search. Just make sure that it’s not out there bouncing around.