Elaine and I came up with the name $200kfreelancer late last year, when we were tossing around ideas for a blog that we’d enjoy doing, that would not require massive quantities of our time (we are both busy aiming to meet our income goals).
A lot of people liked the name, so, having written a dozen stories over the years about the importance of protecting one’s intellectual property, we decided to look into what was involved with getting a trademark. We chatted with a couple of lawyers, learning that it would cost in the neighborhood of $2,000 to research any conflicts and file the paperwork at the USPTO.
We decided to go it alone, in part because we both have pretty good research skills, access to lots of databases and are reasonably entrepreneurial.
Also, the USPTO has an online application. See the TESS system, which allows you to search to see if someone has already trademarked your name, and the TEAS system, which allows you to apply online. How hard could it be?
I forgot we were dealing with the U.S. government.
The big problem with the USPTO’s site is that you cannot work on it, save your work and return to it later. Although the site says that you CAN do that, don’t be fooled. As an employee admitted to me some weeks into the process, the “save” option only comes on the second-to-last screen … after you’ve done everything already.
Saving was a problem. Uploading our logo in the correct format was also a problem (we kept getting rejected). I even watched an extremely flat-footed mock newscast that was supposed to offer me quick tips on filling the form out. The tips were, well, not so quick … or very useful.
Finally, I hit on the answer. I live on a hill literally a 15-minute walk from the USPTO. “I will just go there,” I thought to myself.
I packed Quinn, my five-year-old, up and we trekked down there. (The USPTO has a small interactive museum, so this wasn’t quite as painful for her as it might seem on the surface).
I arrived in the empty customer service office, asked for help, showed a very kind woman my problem and then heard her say. “Well, you’ll have to get IT support.”
OK, IT support. Can we call them? Can I walk over to their office?
We have to email them. “And it may be six weeks until they get back to you,” she said.
Finally, a languid woman spoke up from across the room.
“Why doesn’t she just do a paper filing,” came the voice from behind a cubicle.
I left the USPTO with a packet of papers designed to be filled out with a typewriter (yes, I meant that). I printed our application in black ink, attached a photocopy of our logo and the following week, walked it back down the hill with a $300 check.
That was two months ago.
The hotline says the last action taken on our case was on March 7th. And guess what that action was: “This case has not been assigned to a lawyer.”
The most ironic part of the experience was the poster hanging on the wall in the customer service office, which said: “We try to please our consumers.” I wish that the poster had said: “I work for you, boss.”
I don’t really know if we’ll get a trademark this way, or if we’ll have to hire a lawyer. Has anybody else out there run into this kind of blockade?
Please let us know.
I’m not an intellectual property attorney but have fully executed five registered trademarks myself. One of the trademarks was for a board game that was sold to HASBRO. The other trademark is for a party game that I just launched with a New York Times bestselling author. I actually find the USPTO to be super helpful once they assign your case to an examining attorney. The process does take some time. Happy to chat with you. Feel free to email me Adam@NeilStraussPartyGame.com