Trademark applications mature into trademark registrations and can be very important and valuable assets for a business. Anyone can file a trademark application, and most people can successfully “register” a trademark. However, the value of a DIY trademark is dubious, and, more importantly, its value usually isn’t called into question until just when you need it.
I’ve had clients call me before and ask me whether they can file a trademark application themselves or whether they should use LegalZoom for help. I don’t like to tell people to use or not use LegalZoom, but there are some factors to consider. First, services like LegalZoom are not attorney services. Attorneys provide guidance. One of our chief functions is that of counselor: we provide advice professionally. When a trademark client hires me, we often spend a lot of time just talking about the mark itself: how it was picked, how it is being used, how long it has been used, the kind of power it commands with customers, whether they have other marks they are using or are considering using, whether those marks should be registered or not, how to develop new marks and build new branding. Lots of topics. And I give out advice when we talk about these things. LegalZoom doesn’t give advice (they acknowledge it) – they take input, namely, the input you provide to them, whether right or wrong. LegalZoom does spellcheck your application, but you aren’t too likely to misspell your mark or your name, right?
Hiring an attorney to file a trademark application is generally not very expensive, especially when compared with the value that a properly-filed and maintained trademark registration provides. Most trademark attorneys charge a flat rate to file an application, so you can know and control your budget. Granted, LegalZoom is almost certainly cheaper, but the difference isn’t much – perhaps a few hundred dollars. That hundred dollars should buy you many things: a correctly-filed application, peace of mind it was done properly, advice when you need it, someone to watch and remind you of maintenance fees required on the registration, and a host of other things.
I sometimes take on cases that I haven’t filed originally. Sometimes, clients make careless mistakes in filing the application themselves. Totally forgivable. Sometimes, the client gets an Office Action and doesn’t know what to do with it. Totally understandable. Sometimes, the client has butchered an application and we have to start all over. I hate to see these cases because I know the client is now spending more money (and time) than had he or she just come to talk to me in the first place.
I’ll draw an analogy to electrical wiring. Anybody can connect a light fixture and a junction box with some Romex. That doesn’t mean the lights will come on. Many people can do it and yes, provide power to the light so that it turns on. That doesn’t mean the house won’t burn down. Only some people can do it to code with the assurance that the lights will stay on and the house will stay standing. If you’re not one of those people – or if you can’t say that you know what you are doing – stay away from the electrical. The lights may never come on. Or they may work fine right up until the point that they don’t – they come on, but someday the insulation catches fires. At that point, you’ll wish you had hired the master electrician for $250 to do it.
And that’s the deal with trademark applications – they work until they don’t. You’ll have a false sense of security (or it may keep you up at night) unless you get the advice of a trademark attorney. As someone on the net said, and I apologize because I can’t find the source: “filling in blanks in a form is easy, doing it properly is another matter entirely.”