You don’t have to register your trademark to have limited trademark protection. But there is another dirty little secret about trademarks: you can apply for a federally registered trademark yourself online, for free, at the USPTO–you only pay the government fees. If you decide not to use a real trademark lawyer to file your application, filing yourself is obviously the best, most cost-effective approach for trademark filing (as opposed to using a non-lawyer trademark filing company). The USPTO, however, warns against not using an attorney. Here are some of the issues with going it alone or using a non-lawyer trademark filing service, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office:
- “An attorney may save you from future costly legal problems.” There are many reasons a trademark may not be entitled to a registration. An attorney can search various databases and advise you on any conflict with existing trademarks and advise you on the likelihood of your trademark making it through the registration process for other grounds, before you incur the time and expense of filing a trademark application.
- Filing a trademark application at the USPTO starts a legal proceeding. Although the USPTO will try to help you through the process, it cannot give legal advice. Most applications are initially rejected by the USPTO due to clerical, procedural, or more serious substantive issues. Moreover, third parties may start a proceeding to oppose your application. Responses to rejections and adversarial proceedings can be complex and only a lawyer can respond on your behalf. Moreover, a lawyer can help you avoid some of these issues before you file.
- An attorney can also assist in the maintenance, policing, and enforcement of your trademark rights after registration. The USPTO only registers trademarks, and will not help you enforce your rights.
The trademark registration process can be a complex, adversarial legal process and assistance from an experienced lawyer can help. In fact, a 2013 law review article found that “[o]verall, applications prosecuted by experienced counsel were 50% more likely to register than those handled by inexperienced pro se applicants.” Therefore, the USPTO recommends that you hire a trademark attorney (like, I don’t know, Trust Tree?) to help you navigate these waters.