Filing a Federal Trademark Application FAQ

Applying for a federal trademark has many complications. Learn the basics of registering a trademark.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Brian Farkas, Attorney · Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Your trademarksthe names and logos that you assign to your goods and servicesare valuable business assets. Federal registration offers numerous benefits to trademark owners. In this article, we address common questions about trademark registration.

You should check out the trademark FAQ webpage on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website for more details.

Questions

What marks qualify for federal registration?

To register a trademark with the USPTO, the trademark owner first must use the trademark in interstate commerce. "Interstate commerce" means the mark must be used on a product or service that crosses state, national, or territorial lines, or that affects commerce crossing such lines. For example, an internet business or a restaurant or motel that caters to interstate or international customers would likely be considered to operate in interstate commerce.

The trademark owner must also be able to answer "no" to all of the following questions:

  • Is the trademark the same as or similar to an existing mark used on similar or related goods or services within the same trademark class?
  • Is the trademark on the list of prohibited or reserved names?
  • Is the trademark descriptive, meaning that it merely describes the good or service (such as "Cold and Sweet" for ice cream)?
  • Is the trademark generic—that is, does the mark consist of everyday terms related to the product itself rather than its source (for example, "Bagel Shop" for a bagel shop)?

Below, we discuss the types of marks that aren't eligible for registration.

How do I apply for federal trademark registration?

You file your trademark application online with the USPTO using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). Within TEAS, you have two options: TEAS Plus or TEAS Standard. Despite the confusing terminology, TEAS Plus is likely your first option.

You would use TEAS Standard only if

  • you're applying for goods or services not listed in the USPTO's Trademark ID Manual (most goods and services are listed in the manual), or
  • you don't have the information needed to complete a TEAS Plus application.

As of 2024, the TEAS Plus application fee is $250 per trademark class. As of 2024, the TEAS Standard application fee is $350 per class. Fees do change, but you can check the USPTO's trademark fee schedule

For most trademark applicants, registration is a relatively straightforward process. Your application includes:

  • basic information about the trademark owner
  • a "drawing" of your mark (for word marks, simply type the word; for graphic marks, you can include a photo file of graphic images)
  • the date the mark was first used ever (not necessarily in interstate commerce)
  • the date the mark was first used in interstate commerce (that is, when you first used the mark to identify your company, products, or services in the marketplace beyond your state)
  • a description of the products or services on which the mark will be used
  • samples of how your proposed mark is being used (the USPTO calls these samples, "specimens")
  • a signed declaration saying that the information in the application is accurate, and
  • the registration fee.

In a TEAS Plus application, the system will assign the trademark class(es) based on your description of the products or services. In a TEAS Standard application, you use the Trademark ID Manual to determine the class(es) of your good or service.

For more about the process, read our article on how to register a trademark.

What types of trademarks can't be registered?

Certain types of marks aren't eligible for trademark registration. The USPTO will not register marks on the Principal or Supplemental Register if the marks contain:

  • names of living persons, unless they've given their consent
  • the American flag
  • other federal and local governmental insignias (such as federal department seals), and
  • the name or likeness of a deceased U.S. President, unless their widow(er) has given their consent.

In the past, the USPTO refused to register marks that it deemed immoral, scandalous, or disparaging of a living or deceased person. The Supreme Court did away with those limitations in the cases of Matal v. Tam 582 U.S. 218 (2017) and Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019). Matal involved a disparaging mark and Brunetti an immoral or scandalous mark. In both cases, the Court ruled that the USPTO's refusal to register the mark was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.

The marks above can't be registered on the Principal or Supplemental Register. However, these Registers have different requirements. For example, you can't register descriptive or generic marks on the Principal Register, but you can register these types of trademarks on the Supplemental Register. (See more on the differences between the two registers below.)

What happens once the USPTO determines that my mark is eligible for registration?

When you submit a trademark application, your application will go through a multi-step process that will hopefully end in registration. In the first step, a trademark examiner is assigned to your application. The assigned examiner will review your application to determine if:

  • your application is complete and sufficient (for example, the trademark owner information is appropriately filled out and the specimens are acceptable), and
  • your trademark is registrable.

If your trademark examiner at the USPTO determines that your mark qualifies for registration, the mark will be published online in the USPTO's Official Gazette. When your mark is published in the Gazette, you've entered your application's opposition period. Your mark is published in the Gazette for 30 days. During this time, anyone in the public can oppose the registration of your mark if they believe that the registration will affect their trademark rights.

If a member of the public believes that they would be harmed by the registration of your mark, they can file a notice of opposition within the 30 days. You then have 30 days to respond to the notice of opposition. If you and the opposer are unable to reach a settlement, the USPTO will schedule a hearing on the dispute at the office's Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB).

If no one opposes your registration, you should receive official notice from the USPTO that your mark has moved to the next stage of the application process. For intent-to-use trademark applications, the next stage is showing that you've started using your mark. You demonstrate use by submitting a Statement of Use form. For use-in-commerce trademark applications (for marks that were already being used when you initially submitted your application), the next stage is registration.

What are the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register?

The USPTO maintains two trademark registers: the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register. The Supplemental Register is a secondary register for marks that don't qualify for registration on the Principal Register (usually because they're not distinctive enough). Registration on either register allows you to use the ® on your goods or services. But registration on the Principal Register conveys certain benefits that registration on the Supplemental Register doesn't, including:

Learn more about registering your trademark on the Supplemental Register.

How long does federal trademark registration last?

Unlike patents and copyrights, which have fixed terms, a trademark registration lasts as long as you continue to use the mark in commerce and comply with certain maintenance and renewal requirements. Examples of old trademarks that are still active include COCA-COLA (registered 1893) and LEVI'S (registered in 1928).

Once your trademark or service mark is registered on the Principal Register, the registration is good for an initial term of ten years. However, between year five and six of the mark's registration, you must file a Section 8 Declaration stating that the mark is still in use in commerce. If you don't file this declaration, then your registration will be canceled.

You can renew the original registration indefinitely for additional ten-year periods by filing both a Section 8 Declaration and a Section 9 Renewal Application. A Section 8 filing shows the USPTO that your mark is still in use while a Section 9 renewal application requests that the USPTO renew your mark's registration.

If you fail to renew a trademark, the USPTO declares the mark to be dead and you lose all the rights you gained through registration, including the right to use the ® symbol on the mark.

Can I file a trademark application without an attorney?

You can file a trademark application yourself, without an attorney. However, if your an international applicant, the USPTO requires you to have a U.S.-based attorney or domestic representative.

The TEAS application system is pretty straightforward to use if you know what you're doing (see below). You can learn how to use it through tutorials and other resources on the USPTO website. For a comprehensive look at trademarks, including the application process, read Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

The complexity of the trademark application process isn't so much in the mechanics of the TEAS system (although you need to pay attention to technical requirements, such as the types and sizes of your uploaded files), but rather in knowing how to present your mark to give it the best chance of being accepted. By "present the mark," we mean describing your goods and services to best fit your classification, determining what sample or samples best demonstrate use of the mark in commerce, and other decisions that help or hurt the chances of an application being accepted.

Your application might not be accepted on the first try. You might need to respond to questions and objections from your USPTO examiner. These questions and objections come in the form of what the USPTO calls "office actions."

Office actions can raise such issues as:

  • similarity to an existing registered mark
  • inadequate description of goods or services
  • failure to demonstrate use in commerce, and
  • lack of distinctiveness.

You'll need to learn how to respond to office actions to address your examiner's concerns and make the case that the mark should be registered.

An experienced trademark attorney can navigate the application process for you, from an initial trademark search for similar marks to the application to responses to office actions. They know how to describe a mark, what makes for a good sample to show use in commerce, and how to make an argument that your mark is sufficiently distinctive. We recommend at least consulting with a trademark attorney, after which you can decide whether to handle the application yourself or turn the job over to a legal professional.

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