State vs Federal Trademark Protection
When You Want More
Trademarks can be registered at the state or federal level. Both options come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. Not sure which is right for you and your brand? Keep reading to learn more.
State Trademark Registration
State trademark registration happens at—you guessed it—the state level. As a result, state registered trademarks are only guaranteed protection within their state of registration.
In most states, registration is handled by the secretary of state’s office, though there are some outliers. In New Jersey, for example, state registered trademarks are processed by the state’s Department of the Treasury.
What are the benefits of state trademark registration?
The main benefits of state trademark registration include:
- Cost: cheaper than federal registration, often by at least $200
- Time: shorter processing time than federal registration (like, over a year shorter in many cases)
- Ease: simpler to procure than federal registration—standards vary by state, but are consistently less rigorous than USPTO requirements
What are the negatives of state trademark registration?
A primary negative to state trademark registration is that the scope of geographical protection is narrow. For example, if you register a mark in Nebraska and someone infringes on your mark in Oregon, there may not be much you can do.
Federal Trademark Registration
Federal trademark registration is applied for with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Applying for a federal trademark can be a cumbersome process, but once registered, these marks have the farthest reaching trademark rights in existence.
What are the benefits of federal trademark registration?
Primary benefits of federal trademark registration include:
- Scope: national geographic protection—your mark will have rights across the US
- Credibility: use of the coveted R-inside-a-circle symbol, ®
- Enforcement: the ability to sue for infringement in federal court and to stop counterfeit goods featuring your trademark from entering the US
What are the negatives of federal trademark registration?
Negatives to federal trademark registration center around cost and process. It is much more expensive to apply for a trademark with the USPTO than it is to apply at the state level. Securing federal registration also takes much longer—generally spanning a year or more. State registration often takes a month or less.
Want help applying for federal trademark registration? Learn what our Trademark Service can do for you.
Does a Federal Trademark Supersede a State Trademark?
Often, yes, but it depends. There is no hard-and-fast rule that says a federal mark is always superior to a state mark. In general, however, if a state and federal mark meet in court, the federal mark tends to carry more weight than its state counterpart.
As is often true with trademarks, a lot of it comes down to priority date. This is the day the mark was first used in commerce, as established in your trademark application.
If a federal trademark has an earlier priority date than an infringing state trademark, the federal mark is likely superior.
But let’s say a mark registered in Alabama has an earlier priority date than a confusingly similar federal mark. In that case, the federal mark wouldn’t necessarily overtake the Alabama mark. Instead, the federal mark may be unable to establish rights in Alabama, while the state mark would may be unable to expand outside Alabama.
State vs Federal Trademark Cost
One of the biggest differences between state and federal trademarks is the cost. Registering a trademark with a state often costs hundreds less than registering a trademark with the USPTO.
- Federal Trademark fees
To register a trademark federally, you’ll pay $250 per class if you use the TEAS Plus application, or $350 per class if you use TEAS Standard. (These application types ultimately take you down the same road. TEAS Plus has some additional question/answer requirements.)
- State Trademark fees
The majority of states charge $50 or less for trademark registration. As with federal registration, registering in multiple classes typically costs extra. The cheapest state trademark registration fee is $10, found in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. The most expensive states are Ohio and South Dakota, charging $125.
Curious about the trademark registration costs in each state? For a complete list of state fees, see the FAQ section below.
State vs Federal Trademark FAQs
Should I register for a state or federal trademark?
To give your trademark the best chance of standing up to infringement, registration is a good route. But whether you should register at the state or federal level depends largely on the geographical reach—both current and intended—of your brand.
If you operate in multiple states, plan to expand, or think you might someday move your business to a new state, federal registration might make the most sense. If you plan to operate in only one state and don’t intend to move your business across state lines, then state registration may be sufficient for your needs.
Do state and federal trademarks need to be renewed?
Yes. Both state and federal trademarks need to be renewed. Federal trademark renewals are due every 10 years following registration, plus by the 6th year after registration. State trademark renewal rules vary by state. Most state trademarks last for either 5 or 10 years, requiring renewal prior to expiration in order to keep the registration alive.
What is the trademark fee in each state?
Here’s a complete list of the minimum trademark registration fees per state:
New Hampshire: $50
New Jersey: $50
New Mexico: $50
New York: $50
North Carolina: $75
North Dakota: $30
Rhode Island: $50
South Carolina: $15
South Dakota: $125
West Virginia: $50 (includes up to 2 classes)