My Trademark Story...

Here I am going to share my experience with getting a trademark. This is not me telling you what to do. This is not legal advice. This is simply my story.

In May 2016 I applied for a trademark on the term Magic Square Puzzles. I believed this would be in my best interest since that was my best selling resource line on Teachers Pay Teachers. I struggled a bit with choosing which category to fill out, but I got through it and hit submit.

I posted my first Magic Square in late 2011. I remember doing something somewhat like what I made with my 4th grade teacher, but I don't remember the exact name she used for them. Plus what I remember from 4th grade and what I created to sell are slightly different. I though I made up the term (although I've now done multiple Google searches and realized that there are a variety of "magic squares" involving numbers on them. When I requested the trademark, I did NOT know it was such a common term).

My reasoning for filing a trademark was simple - I thought it would protect me. I thought it meant others couldn't use the term. I thought it meant others couldn't come after me if they created something similar since I created it. I thought it was the next step and the "right thing" to do in my TpT journey.

Fast forward, it took months for me to hear back from the trademark office. When I did finally hear from them, I had used the wrong category. Since I'm using downloadable goods, I needed to choose that option. The attorney changed it, no big deal. But this minor change took over four months to get changed. My e-mails went to the attorney's spam folder. My phone calls went un-returned. It took much longer than it needed to, yet I've since learned that some people have it take even longer.

When I finally had the right category selected, he then informed me that I could not get the trademark for anything related to math. So my trademark says, excluding math. I was severely disappointed at this, so I started to do some Google searches and realized it was a fairly common term as far as math and numbers are concerned.

In May 2017, I was finally awarded the trademark. I remember being so excited! All my hard work on TpT had paid off. The trademark was mine!

Within about a week of being awarded the trademark and getting it in the mail, I asked my virtual assistant to search TpT for the term "Magic Square Puzzles" and create a list of all the resources that used the term. She was told to NOT list anything math related, since my trademark excluded math terms.

When I got the list, I found the copyright/trademark infringement information on TpT. I made sure to list all of the information they requested and I sent off the e-mail. My understanding was that I needed to protect my trademark in order to keep it. So that's all I thought I was doing.

Within a few days I heard back from Teachers Pay Teachers that they had removed all the infringing resources and e-mailed all of those sellers to notify them. I thought it was done.

I then took a two hour drive with my family to visit my grandparents and sister for the evening. My grandparents house is old, steel sided, and gets no cell reception.

When I got home that evening, I came across a 100+ comment post in a fairly popular Facebook group for Teachers Pay Teachers sellers. It was quite obvious that I had upset people with my trademark. There were statements like, "How can a 'common term' be trademarked?" and "Why did she not tell us via Q&A rather than give our stores a strike?" and "It's just a business thing. Don't take it personally."

Another thread popped up in the same Facebook group with examples of other terms sellers could use to "get around" my trademark. They could say "Magic Square Puzzlers" or "Magic Squares" and be just fine. That was the moment I realized my trademark wasn't nearly as powerful as I had thought it would be. People could still use the exact same format - even the same numbers if it coincidentally happened - and just change the title by one little letter or one small word, and there was nothing I could do.

It took me quite awhile to fall asleep that night. People had been given strikes?! When I had contacted TpT about the cease and desist, I realized that other sellers would probably have to take their resources down - but I didn't realize the exact process. And I truly had no idea that other sellers' stores could be given strikes. Plus all they needed to do was change a word or two and they were not trying to take ownership of my trademark. What was the point? And why had I waited a year, gone through all those headaches, and spent all that money?

Ugh. This entire process was so much more complicated than I had realized.

The night the Facebook conversation within the group popped up started an entire string of messages to me that came and went for at least two weeks. (And an occasional one still shows up  months later...)
  • "Stay strong! It's just part of doing business. They'll get over it."
  • "If I use the term "Magic Square PuzzleRs", am I infringing on your trademark?"
  • "How did you go about the trademark process? That's so smart, and I want to learn more!"
These and many other messages appeared in private Facebook messages and various e-mails (even now - four months later). I also know at least one person from that Facebook grouped blocked me on FB, and multiple people said within the thread that they would "not associate" with "such a seller in giveaways or any other aspect of business".

In all honesty - I expected some backlash because people would have to take their resources down. But I did not completely think through the trademark process. I did not realize the implications of my trademarking decision. I've always been a firm believer in the "rising tide raises all ships" mentality that is TpT. And now I feel as if I've sank a few ships - or at least put dings and small holes in some boats. That was never my intention and not how I thought the trademark process worked.

Why am I writing this?

I want my side of the story out there. I want people to see that getting a trademark is not cut and dry. It is a process. It's probably in your best interest to get a lawyer involved. Definitely do a Google search to see if your term is truly all that unique! 

If you do go through with applying for a trademark, you may very well upset people. Be ready for the repercussions of your actions. 

I know my intentions were good, but my research stunk. A lot. Both my research on the trademark process and my research on the term I wished to trademark. I did not do my homework. 

Please know what you are getting into. Do your homework. Don't just ask around to your TpT friends and trust that "How do I get a trademark?" Google search that you did. It may not be enough.

I know I would certainly do things differently if I were ever to apply for another trademark. And I sincerely hope others pursue their trademark in the most ethical manner possible.

Finally, I would like to publicly apologize to those I hurt. It was never my intention to get any stores a strike. People who know me in real life know that I do my best to be a kind, honest, and upfront person. And I do my best to be the same way in my professional life.

~Heather aka HoJo~

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