As a business owner, protecting your company’s intellectual property is of paramount importance. Trademarking your names and logos can go a long way in safeguarding your brand identity. In a perfect world, we would all have the resources to immediately file applications for each and every brand-identifying element right at the launch of any business venture. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where resources are not always available all at once and prioritizing is key. The question this very real set of circumstances often brings with it is “do I file for my name or logo first?” While both play important roles in characterizing your business, the answer, in most cases, is to file for a standard word mark before proceeding with a trademark application for your logo. Here’s why:

1. Flexibility of Use

A “standard word mark” is a trademark that protects your brand name itself. It does not matter how the words are stylized, what font or color is used, or if they are featured in conjunction with artwork, so long as the words (and punctuation, if applicable) remain the same. Once this trademark registers, the name is protected.
A design mark, on the other hand, protects the specific design elements as submitted, including the stylization of the text and any images or graphics. If you change the design of your logo (even in small ways, like adding or removing elements or updating the layout), protection conferred by a registered logo trademark becomes irrelevant, as you are using a different, unregistered design. Without use, the previously registered trademark can be considered abandoned.
Particularly in the early days of a business, or in the initial stages of a rebrand, the logo you start with might not be the logo you ultimately wind up using in commerce. Therefore, prioritizing your word mark, and filing a trademark application for this first, offers brand protection while allowing flexibility for future design changes.

2. Broad Protection

Word marks simply offer a broader range of protection than design marks. While visual branding is invaluable, and you certainly want to protect your logos, if you only have a design mark, your scope of protection is limited. Even if your logo features your brand or product name, without a standard word mark, you have not protected the name by itself. Competitors could potentially use the same or similar words in their branding. If you have a word mark, no one else can use it, regardless of the design, font, or color they use – doing so would be infringement on your trademark rights.

3. Cost Efficiency

Trademarks are a cornerstone of any business’s IP portfolio and integral to most marketing strategies, but the process of trademark registration can be costly and time-consuming. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to be strategic in how and when you allocate funds for new applications. Presumably, the name of your business or flagship brand will remain the same, if not forever, for a very long time. Logos, on the other hand, can sometimes be more fluid. Rebrands happen, and this potential eventuality should not deter you from registering a design you plan to use for an extended period. However, if you aren’t fully committed to one version of a design and need to file a new application with every iteration, the costs can quickly add up. Until you have decided on a permanent logo, a standard word mark can do a lot of heavy lifting on the trademark front.

4. Easier Enforcement

Part of trademark maintenance is remaining vigilant about enforcing your trademark rights. This means keeping an eye out for other users infringing on your trademarks and either reaching out to these unauthorized users directly or consulting with legal counsel to do so. But trademark enforcement can be tricky when there is any room for interpretation and enforcing a word mark can be easier than a design mark since it focuses on something more concrete (specific words in a specific order for a specific thing). Unauthorized use of a similar logo can sometimes be skirted by arguing minor differences in composition or layout. A word mark is less open to interpretation, and can thus be more straightforward to enforce, something you want when it comes to your primary brand. Focusing on – and enforcing – a word trademark can also help bolster your ability to enforce future design marks that incorporate your name.
While both word and design marks are important components of any brand’s trademark strategy, there are clear advantages to prioritizing the registration of your word mark. This initial step provides flexibility for future logo changes, broad protection against potential infringements, cost efficiency in filing, and an easier path to trademark enforcement. Once a standard word mark is secured, you can look ahead to fleshing out your trademark portfolio from a relatively secure vantage point, ensuring robust and well-rounded protection for your brand.