Im a hip hop producer. I would like to trademark my "producer name" before I begin doing business. I need a federal trademark (no logo, just the simple structure) I would like the help of an attorney but I dont have $1000 for someone to do something for me that I could do myself (eventually any way). I understand why attorneys charge so much for this service. I was wondering if anyone here could help me out. Im a 20 year old dishwasher right now just trying to catch a dream. Of course when I begin making money from selling my beats, I would be gladly to return the favor. This probably wont even be my last trademark as I will be creating a record label as well down the road. Thank you.
2 Answers from Attorneys
Like anything else in life, you need to do things in the right order. Trademark is a crucial part of almost any business these days, but that is relative to everything else in your life and protecting your brand is not as important as eating and paying rent. So if things are that tight at this point, I would not consider it your top priority. You should save up a little budget and handle your legal affairs as you can afford to do responsibly.
Your snarky remark about paying a lawyer for something you can do yourself was not missed upon us. Trademark is no where near as intuitive as some might lead you to believe. While certain aspects are easy to accomplish, namely the filing, should you run into even one problem you will not be able to overcome it without the help of a lawyer and that will be a lot more money than the $1000 or so (and you can get it done well for less than that) it might cost you upfront to handle it the right way. If it was that easy we would not be in business.
All the best!
I agree with everything Mr. Natoli wrote; however, I want to add a little. Step 1 in starting any venture is protecting yourself and your personal assets, not the assets of the production company you wish to begin (aka the Trademark). Therefore, you should most likely file Articles of Organization to become an LLC (Limited Liability Company) with the NY Department of State (http://www.dos.ny.gov/corps/llccorp.html#artorg). This costs $200. There are numerous other forms of businesses that may provide better protections and tax benefits depending on your particular situation, but the LLC works for most individuals in startup situations.
Step 2) Once incorporated you should open a checking account for the business and sign all documentation (checks, contracts, loan agreements, etc. ) as "Your Name, CEO" so that you maximize your personal protection.
Step 3) Learn about any licenses you may need to obtain from the State (Registered Agent or otherwise) and the regulations you will need to abide.
Step 4) Find an insurance agent you trust and purchase a General Business Liability Insurance Policy.
Step 5) Learn about Copyright laws and especially the rules around sampling music. Plus, investigate the costs of obtaining public performance licenses from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. You should buy licenses from each of them if possible. Not doing so is the death of most musical artists that want to figure it out on their own and end up with crippling judgments against themselves.
Step 6) Perform a cursory Trademark Search for the Production Name you wish to one day obtain protection (Your LLC's name does not have to be the same as your Producer Name or your eventual Label's name): 1) Search a website domain name source to see if anyone has registered it already; 2) Google, Bing, and Yahoo the name to see how it's used by others; 2) Search uspto.gov in the TESS database to make sure no one has registered it federally; 3) Search the NY Department of State website to make sure no one has registered it with the state (you may also want to repeat for Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts). A Trademark Search firm would perform these steps and several more to give you a true "Clearance Report" and it would cost about $500. *Don't fall in love with the name "you've got to have". Instead search for a few names in case you come across someone else is using the others and definitely if you're laying down $500 for a search that may return "using this mark is inadvisable."
Step 7) Start using the name and place a tiny 'T' inside a circle at the end of it on any business card, flyer, advertisement, etc. so that you are putting the world on notice that you claim the name as your mark. Do NOT place a tiny 'R' inside a circle at the end as that may only be used for "Registered Marks" and you can be charged crippling fines even if you accidently do so.
Then, around Step 50, after about five years of operating, is where you should file for federal and state trademarks. The reason you should wait five years is because you are seeking a "standard character mark." Without going into all the reasons here, you will need about five years of evidence of active use in order to overcome the almost certain rejection the Trademark examiner will send you for being "merely descriptive" or "generic".
I do want to re-emphasize what Mr. Natoli mentioned above. Each of these steps have nuances that could require specific legal advice for your situation. The advice I give all clients that seek to start a business is to make friends with at least three people - an Accountant to help with Taxes, an Insurance Agent to help once Murphy's Law hits you, and an Attorney to help you through problems that you may not even realize exist.
Finally, I'll leave you with this. Of all businesses I've helped startup, without my fees included, the startup costs get to about $10,000. If you don't have that kind of cash on hand, find partners, search the Small Business Association website for loans/grants, visit/join a Chamber of Commerce to talk to other business about how they got their beginning.
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