You’ve formed a business or launched a successful product — congratulations! You’ve heard that a trademark protects your brand, but you might not be sure what that actually means.

First, it’s helpful to understand what a trademark is. A trademark is any word, phrase, logo, design, symbol — or anything, really — that identifies your product, service, or brand. For example, the McDonald’s “Golden Arches” are immediately identifiable as identifying McDonald’s. The Golden Arches are a strong trademark. As you can imagine, trademarks are often some of the most valuable assets owned by companies.

By registering your trademark with the US government (through the US Patent and Trademark Office, also known as the USPTO), you achieve certain protections that you otherwise wouldn’t have. The most important reason for registering your trademark is that you now have evidence of ownership of the mark and can use that evidence in court if anyone ever challenges you or infringes your trademark. A registered mark gives you much greater protection than an unregistered mark (known as a common law trademark).

Registering a trademark isn’t always terribly hard, but it can be time consuming and confusing. Registration isn’t automatic. In other words, registration is a legal process and the USPTO assigns its own attorneys to the application in order to review and possibly challenge it. The USPTO often challenges applications for various reasons. For that reason, most people choose to use an attorney to file an application. Trademark To Go has sought to make the process as streamlined as possible with our five-step process.

For further reading, you might want to check out the USPTO’s discussion.