While you are not required to register your mark, there are certain advantages to owning a federal Trademark registration. (If you choose not to register a mark, you can establish rights to it based on demonstrated legitimate use of the mark.)
Once you have determined that a trademark or service mark is what you need, you should educate yourself on the rules and requirements for application for registration of your mark.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website offers a Basic Facts About Trademarks booklet as well as an FAQ page to guide you in the process.
You will also need to search the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) database before filing your application to compare your mark to existing trademarks to ensure there is no conflict. Some people choose to hire an attorney for this and to represent their interests. If you do work with an attorney, keep in mind the USPTO will correspond only with that person, not with you directly.
NOTE: It is not mandatory to hire an attorney as long as you comply with the trademark statute and rules.
If you find a mark conflicts with yours, record the serial number or registration number so you can check the status of the mark via the Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval (TARR) database. The TARR system reflects current registered trademarks and pending applications so you may be able to determine if the mark in question is still being used. Keep in mind that although the TARR database is updated daily, a mark that is legitimately in use may not show up in your search.
The Application Process
Upon completion of your research you will need to write a specific description of goods and/or services associated with your mark. You will also need a clear depiction of your mark in standard character format or stylized (design) format.
Once you determine what information, materials and fees your application must include, you can then submit your application online, via US mail, or by hand or courier. The most efficient way to apply is online because you will receive immediate notification of the filing via email, which will contain the serial number assigned to your application.
The basic registration fee for trademark application is currently $375. Additional fees may apply throughout the process, depending on the feedback you get from the USPTO. Fees are subject to change so be sure review the complete fee schedule.
The Review Period
Once you have submitted your application, there is a waiting period during which a USPTO attorney will review your application, assess whether it is complete and research any potential conflicts.
The attorney may then issue an Office Action explaining reasons for refusal (you will have an opportunity to respond and provide the missing information or revise as needed), or may approve the mark for publication in the Official Gazette, the next step in the trademark registration process. You may again find the TARR database useful in tracking the progress of your own trademark application.
Overall, the trade or service mark registration process is a lengthy and involved one that may take from six months up to several years. Be prepared to be patient, thorough and responsive at each step along the way to minimize unnecessary delays.