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Our startup clothing company is getting ready to trademark and promote our line, but the issue is that with each release of the line, there is a new iteration of the logo featured. Each shirt features a primary and secondary design, and both are different with each line. Is trademarking required for each individual design to protect it? Or is there a way to trademark the base design that then covers future versions of the design?

Thank you

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Trademarking is not a "register and you're done" process.

Trademarking often requires extended use within an industry to show you are utilizing that brand extensively in that industry. And due to your usage you want to stake a claim on the brand for that industry so that no one can try and "knock off" or "mimic" the brand within that industry. To this end, it takes a record of how long a design has been in use in the industry, what that design is, and the different uses within the industry. You can't just claim it will be used in X, Y, and Z.... you have to show it has been used in X, Y, and Z.

When you see brands displaying the ™ symbol, it is an indication that the copyright holder intends to possibly register the artwork as a trademark and should anyone feel there's a reason it would violate or infringe upon an existing trademark, they should contact the company. This is done during the period of use trying to establish enough usage to register the trademark. There are no requirements to put a ™ symbol on any artwork, and the ™ in itself offers zero protection against any infringement or assistance with any such infringement. It's just a "flag", if you will, to pass on intent to others in the industry.

When you see the ® symbol it means the artwork has been trademarked and has staked a claim on that artwork for the industry in which it operates. This offers some protection against possible infringement. Or at the very least strengthens any case against infringement.

It can often take years of usage in an industry before registering a trademark is feasible.


It would seem that you are really inquiring about copyrights and not trademarks.

Trademark is not the same thing as Copyright

When you see the © symbol it means the artwork is copyrighted and no permitted use should be assumed without written permission from the copyright holder. However, it is not mandatory to present the © symbol on anything or even the word "copyright". Such indicators are done merely to strengthen any case against infringement. One can't claim to be "unaware" of a copyright if the symbol or word is present on the original piece.

All artwork is copyrighted the moment it is created. If you wish to register a copyright with the Library of Congress (LOC), you can do that as individual pieces or as a collection. Registration with the LOC is not mandatory. However, there are notable benefits if a copyright has the earliest registration date before a dispute over it arises.

You may benefit from exploring the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the United States Copyright Office websites.

If you are a "company", you need to discuss these matters with an attorney who is familiar with trademark, patent, and copyright laws, and protecting your IP. I'm a designer, not an attorney, and while I may have some experience dealing with such matters it is not my area of expertise and never will be.

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A trademark registration for each design iteration of a logo can be expensive. However, it is not necessary to register each individual design to gain protection. Register the logo as a "standard character mark," rather than a design mark. By registering the plain name rather than the design, the mark is protected in all its iterations, regardless of colors, embellishments or typestyles used.see Words vs Logos by attorney Erik M. Pelton

Because of this versatility, it is more common to register a logo as a standard character mark rather than as a design. If you register only the design, then once the design changes, you will need to register the new design.

Some companies, however, choose to register a logo as a design in addition to registering it as a standard character mark. They may even apply for three registrations for a logo: one as a standard character mark, one as a design mark in color, and a third as a black & white design mark. This, presumably, ensures the ultimate level of protection for a logo that has high value (the Coca-Cola logo is said to be worth 70 billion dollars).

Trademark registration typically takes about a year if there are no snags. If the US Patent and Trademark Office generates an "office action" in response to the application, it could take longer. Some cases have taken years.

Regarding copyright protection, many logos do not qualify for it. The US Copyright Office, as well as the US congress, has had a long-standing policy that designs consisting merely of lettering, even if embellished, and simple shapes, are not protectable by copyright. This would disqualify a vast number of typical company logo designs for copyright protection. US Copyright FAQS

If, on the other hand, T-shirts are printed with original artwork or photographs, they are probably protected by copyright. Copyright protection begins automatically the moment a work is created in "fixed" form. Printing to a shirt is obviously a fixed form. A photograph is a fixed form. Even saving a work to a hard drive is a fixed form.

Copyright registration is fairly straightforward and inexpensive and can be done online. Trademark registration is far more complicated and is not cheap. Copyright protection lasts for a fixed time. It typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. A copyright created by a corporate entity lasts a flat 120 years. A trademark registration can, in theory, last forever as long as it is maintained. Costs for registration, penalties for infringement, and the standards for determining infringement vary significantly between copyright and trademark protection.

A wise first move for anyone wanting to protect a logo or original work would be a consult with an intellectual property attorney. Often these initial consults are inexpensive. ..................

Erik M. Pelton, referenced above, is both an intellectual propertty lawyer and a former examiner for the US Patent & Trademark Office. His blogs and videos contain much valuable information for designers. And they are written in plain English, so even I can understand them.

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