I get a lot of inquiries about registering a mark, usually from start-up businesses. For the most part, people don’t really understand why they should register a mark, or why they may not need to bother. For example,is there value in registering a mark on Bobby Joe Pfarfegnugen’s Garage? Is someone really going to start trying to profit off of your name? Probably not. But it certainly can make sense to register a mark in other circumstances, particularly where your product or services are unique.
This article on Bloomberg discusses a famous, and profitable, online trademark filing service: Trademarkia. For a relatively low cost, a business owner can get the law firm associated with Trademarkia to briefly check to make sure the mark is able to be registered, and then send it off to the USPTO. They passed $5M in filing fees to USPTO last year, which equates to about 15,000 classes (not that many marks, as some marks were likely registered for multiple classes and the article suggests they expect to file 6,000 marks this year, apparently increasing their total from last year). So, yeah, they’ve got a profitable business model and they’re doing a lot of business.
And, don’t get me wrong, I do not begrudge them their business, as the Bloomberg article seems to suggest that INTA-associated folks do. I have no particular animus against Trademarkia. In fact, I think legal services are steadily marching in an online direction, and many parts of the legal process can, and should, be reduced in cost and scope, as the proliferation of legal forms sites has showed. To argue against this tide is probably pointless. It is what it is.
But what are you missing by using such a service? I suspect that for Trademarkia’s $159 fee for legal services (really just clearance, i.e. “can this mark be registered or not?”), you are not getting a whole lot of branding advice. Maybe none. Nor are you going to get someone asking you why you are even bothering to do this. Do you need a trademark in the first place? Trademarkia’s business model assumes that you know what you want, and it’s going to give it to you. That’s fine, but in my experience, I don’t think many people seeking legal advice really have a firm handle on what they need, versus what they think they need, or merely want. And part of the lawyer’s duty to the client involves keeping their interests foremost, and maybe even telling the client something they don’t want to hear. But in the long run, that’s the right thing to do.
So if you want to protect your business’s name, registering a mark is something to consider. It is relatively inexpensive, and if you use a service like Trademarkia, it can even be dirt cheap. (You can also consider state level trademarks, which are usually much cheaper than a federal registration! I wonder if Trademarkia counsels on that at all…) But you should be sure that you are spending your money wisely, getting the best mark that you can. This is especially critical in today’s online world, as the wrong mark, which might be possible to register, might not protect your business from cybersquatters.