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Trademarking your Physical Therapy Practice’s Name or Logo. Looking at Key Considerations.

What's the deal with TM, SM, ®

It seems like these symbols are all over the place but what do they mean and are you allowed to use them. Just to be clear, we’re not Lawyers here and this blog post isn’t legal advice by any stretch of the imagination (only an Attorney you hire can give you that) but there are some basics you should know and can consider if you’re thinking about trademarking your physical therapy practice’s logo or name.

What is a trademark anyways?

A trademark is a form of intellectual property. It something that allows an owner to lay claim to a recognizable sign, design, word and identifies a specific product or service. A trademark can be held by an individual or a company or any other legal entity and then used. In practical terms trademarks exist for entities to protect something that identifies them and protect them from others using the same or similar names and marks ultimately confusing end customers and hurting the original trademark holder.Trademarks have a long and storied history with the modern age of trademark law beginning sometime around the late 19th century.

Ok,  now you have the basics. Out in the wild, you’ll see different marks applied. They don’t mean the same thing and you need to be careful about which one you use.

TM and SM

These are fairly ubiquitous out in the world. You’ll TM (trademark) and SM (service mark) all over the place. There are no formal requirements to apply a TM to your practice logo or your practice name. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Use of the trademark symbol indicates an assertion that a word, image, or other sign is a trademark; it does not indicate registration.

Wikipedia

Basically, you’re just telling the world that you are laying claim to the word or image or other sign/symbol but there’s no backing behind it that the word or image has been registered through an official sanctioned process. There are different schools of thought as to whether it is useful to put a TM on your logo or practice name. On the one hand, it is essentially free and very easy. On the other hand, the legal protections it offers aren’t overly strong.Visually, some argue that having a TM can visually detract from your logo if it’s not done well. One should also be careful not to infringe on anyone else’s trademark. It’s not a good idea to use a similar name to other practices in your area.

® - The registered trademark symbol

The registered mark is an entirely different ballgame. You should only use an ® mark if you have registered your trademark or service mark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (also known as the USPTO). It takes somewhere around 6 months to a 1 year to get a registered trademark. It involves:
  • Initial Research - Before one files, it's usually a good idea to search the existing database to see if there's already anything similar. There's no sense in applying if you don't have a good chance of getting the trademark granted.
  • File an application and paying fees - fill out the paperwork and cut the check
  • Provide additional information as requested/needed - depends on how your filing goes
  • Wait

One of the big questions is whether you will try and go it alone or work with an attorney if you do choose to file for the mark. Working with an attorney will require you to invest but may also increase your chances of success especially if you’ve never done it before.

The last thing you need to know is that once you register a trademark, it doesn’t last forever. You will need to continue to use the registered trademark in commerce. At the end of 6 years, you need to file a document that says you are still using the mark . Trademarks would then need to be renewed every 10 years.

How to decide what to do

You really have 3 simple options:
  • Do nothing. Use your logo and name and move right along
  • Apply a TM or SM to your practice name and/or logo
  • Apply for a registered trademark
These items are listed in order of increasing effort and cost. There’s not necessarily a wrong answer here and this is where an Attorney can really help you decide what might make sense. With that said, here are some factors that you might consider:
  • Is your practice name something that is commonly used nationwide? This may suggest that you should register but may also diminish your chances of success
  • Is your practice large and multi-state? If you are already a big practice or growing into multiple juridictions may be a good idea to apply
  • Is your practice mature or just starting up? Budget considerations may come into play. You could consider using a TM until budget dollars are available
This is by no means an exhaustive list but some that you might consider and if you’re not really sure may help you decide to speak to an Attorney. Even if you don’t decide to file, spending a few dollars speaking to an Attorney may bring things into focus for you.
 
One last thing, your logo and your name may be different things depending on how they are designed. You may need to consider applying for a trademark on both as the case might be!

The bottom line

A trademark can be as simple as a adding a TM to your logo or name or as much as filing a formal trademark application. Only you can decide the value on that after weighing to cost time and other considerations.

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