I recently got a letter from a law firm in the US, alleging that my new business, Hiive Systems, has infringed their trademark. Unfortunately for them, the best they could do in claiming a trade mark was allege our logo was similar to theirs (we don’t think it is), and even though our businesses are in different industries, they demanded we stop using our name, logo and relinquish our registered domains, or they’ll sue us under some loose Common Law precedent formed in 1870 or so when the US government sued a counterfeiter.
Anyway, this is all going to play out over the next few months, so I won’t name names or go into details here lest I prejudice things or give these guys cause to make the issue (more) personal, but the upshot was that I did one of those important and non urgent things, and registered my trademark for Hiive Systems, initially in the US and Australia, and soon via the Madrid protocol.
For the benefit of those that haven’t gone through the process, but have been thinking about it, here are a couple of notes/observations. The key point is that it isn’t that expensive, and it isn’t that hard – if you’ve got a brand you care about, you really should be protecting your rights through a trade mark.
Australian Trade Marks (via ipaustralia.gov.au)
The process of applying for the trademark was fairly straight forward. The online application form was quite user friendly, and they made it easy to upload files and search for categories you want your trade mark applied to, from within the application process/form.
What surprised me the most was the vast array of detailed classifications for trademark categories: while I had previously thought the applications were for around 45 “high level” classes of registration (such as Class 9 which includes computer software), there are hundreds of sub-classes, and each one you select using a checkbox costs you more ($120 a pop). For example, “software” as a search phrase returned more than 80 sub-classes of Class 9 alone.
Starting small, we’ve spent $240AUD on an application for two categories, payable by credit card, and now we wait for the examination process to unfold. So far, pretty easy, and if/when they get accepted, we’ll be up for $250/class to actually register the marks, and then $300/class/year to maintain them: a total startup cost of $370/class.
IPAustralia is currently estimating less than a 3 month assessment period, which is nice – if I’m lucky I’ll know the result by Valentines Day.
United States Trade Marks (via www.uspto.gov)
The US Trade Mark system was decidedly less user-friendly, however, with patience and reading the fine-print, it worked out well.
Much like the Australian example, there are hundreds of sub-classes that you can apply against with your Trade Mark application, and each of these has a cost attached: US$275 per sub class, using the online TEAS-Plus system, which is a little more demanding of what you give it (and which presumably saves the examiners time). The good news is that these fees also appear to cover the actual registration if the mark is accepted, which is a good thing, since they’re a fair amount higher than the Australian application fees.
One snag I got stuck on while registering was the need to declare the reason for the registration for each class – it was important to select one box at a time, and in my case, choose 1a) since we’re already trading, and then upload some proof that we were already using the mark, in our case, a screenshot from our application. This form and button processes was very poor on user friendliness, and I had to delete and re-add records after accidentally setting them to be 1b) (not in use yet) and start over.
The email from the USPTO states that it is likely to be about 5 months until the application even gets examined, however, when it comes to challenges on validity of the trademark, they’ll use the application date as their reference point. If I’m lucky, I’ll know the result before the start of next year’s ski season.