YouTube has a set of copyright policies in place to prevent creators from making money off of content they don’t own, such as songs or video clips. Similarly, you should protect your own bottom line by trademarking the things you can. Most importantly, you should trademark your merch designs so that no one can steal them and use them to trick your followers into purchasing fake merch.

Here’s how to trademark your designs.

1. Do your research to ensure your design isn’t too similar to someone else’s.

Before registering your own trademark, you should make sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s. Research the merch that creators within your content niche are selling. Compare their designs to yours. Ensure they’re substantially different.

You can research anyone quotes or slogans on your designs simply by entering them into a search engine. Anyone else’s merch bearing that quote will pop up. You can replicate this search with a visual design by doing an image search for keywords related to your designs.

If you find a trademarked design that’s similar to your own, then you should highly consider changing up your merch. You likely won’t be able to get your design trademarked otherwise.

2. Apply through the US Patent & Trademark Office.

You can file your trademark application online directly through the USPTO website. There are also online services you can work with to make the process easier. However, if you’re located outside of the US, you’ll need to find a US-licensed lawyer to work with you.

There are two different types of applications you can file. First is the use-based application. You’ll choose this one if you’re already selling merch bearing the designs you’re trying to trademark. Your application will require proof of that use.

If you haven’t started selling your designs yet, then you’ll file an Intent to Use application. This kind of application acts as a placeholder until you have proof of use that you can submit.

3. If you’re given an ornamental refusal, then you should submit alternative proof of use or secondary meaning.

Not every t-shirt design can be trademarked. If the USPTO determines that your design is merely a decoration rather than an integral part of your branding, then it will deny your application with an ornamental refusal. Only designs that indicate the merch’s origin can be properly trademarked.

Therefore, you may need to submit alternative proof of use. This would be applicable if your design was also on the tag of your shirts or presented as a logo on the bottom of your mugs.

If you can’t show alternative proof of use, then you can demonstrate the design’s secondary meaning. Demonstrate how the design is used as part of your channel branding through promotional materials, channel art, etc. Basically, any evidence that proves your design is recognized as part of your channel branding can be submitted.

Trademarking your merch designs can be a lengthy process, but it’s worth it to protect yourself from copyright infringement. File an application for your designs and have your proof of use ready to submit.

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