Many companies never bother to trademark their company name, or key brand names of their products. This is a mistake, both from a general business perspective but also especially from an online marketing perspective. If your competitors use one of your brand names in their ads, Google’s policy boils down to – you can complain, but we won’t take action (i.e. disapprove your competitors ads) unless you can prove you own that word (or words) as a trademark. When you fill the complaint form out, they even have a field for you to enter your trademark registration number, so they can go to the USPTO.gov site and confirm that you do indeed own the trademark.
The USPTO has a self-service option for applying for a trademark now – it’s only several hundred dollars, so there’s really no excuse for not filing for your trademark. You have to show a sample of the mark in use, and declare when its first use in commerce occurred, and so forth. It’s important to note there are two types of marks; one which is for the visual design of a mark (like for a logo), and another which is a “word mark” where you’re simply trademarking a word or set of words. In my opinion a “word mark” is always better if you have to prioritize which one to spend your time on, simply because if you protect the words, then they are also protected inside a logo (although the style/imagery of the logo is then not protected). If you want to protect your brand in paid search channels like AdWords, a “word mark” is the way to go.
There is one particularly tricky part – figuring out which of the myriad of categories you should select (when you register, it’s for the use of that mark in a particular field). But if you can figure it out, my experience has been that about 50% of the time, your application will go through, it will be published (to allow competitors to complain, if they notice its publication), and then it has a good chance of getting granted. In our case it took about a year for the trademark to “issue”.
Caveat: if you select the wrong category, or there is another problem with your application, it will be rejected and at that point it’s probably best to involve a law firm, for several thousand dollars, to handle it.
If you want to learn about the process, go to www.uspto.gov and check it out!