Every now and again, I’m asked what I think about Legal Zoom and whether it’s a decent service. This is really a good question. If you’re a start up business owner you have to be smart about how you spend your money. You want to make sure you get bang for buck. You want to make sure you’re spending in the right place. I’m an entrepreneur as well, and I bootstrapped my start up costs. I totally get it.
In fact, I’m happy those creative entrepreneurs stepped to the plate and actually asked my thoughts instead of following what other entrepreneurs around them may have done.
So, let me get to it.
Legal Zoom is not your friend. This is why….
When you “shop” Legal Zoom for…let’s say a trademark you are get exactly what you order. It’s no different then pulling up at the Burger King drive-thru and ordering a whopper with cheese.
In fact, “Have it Your Way” couldn’t be a more perfect way to describe this situation.
You input exactly what you think you want and need and Legal Zoom submits that information to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It goes a little something like this:
- You roll up to the Legal Zoom window
- You order that trademark
- You answer some questions
- You select an add-on or two
- And you pay….
Nothing about this quick order trademark process involves legal counsel. Nothing at all. Let’s dig deeper.
Here is the trademark “menu” from LegalZoom’s website:
#1. LegalZoom searches the federal trademark database for direct conflicts. The key word here is direct conflicts. So here’s the thing… trademark infringement is not limited to whether there is a direct conflict with another brand. It extends to whether there is a “likelihood of confusion” with another identical (direct) or similar trademark. There are also other factors considered but this is the big one.
What’s the problem?
LegalZoom’s search of the federal trademark database is something that you can do on your own. For free. Don’t believe me? Go here. Please know this is a preliminary step in seeing if your potential trademark is available. It is not a full trademark clearance search – this type of search is typically done by an attorney.
#2. LegalZoom says “If you’d like, we can conduct a comprehensive search…” Now, this is along the lines of what you actually need. Their fees range from $199-$499 for this add-on. The $199 is not getting you much further than their basic direct conflict search so it doesn’t make sense to bother with that.
And the problem is….
When an attorney does a comprehensive trademark search they also give you an opinion letter providing their analysis of your proposed trademark and any potential conflicts. They give a formal, written opinion of whether your proposed trademark based on the clearance search is a strong candidate for trademark registration. If the trademark is not likely to be successfully registered or you’ll face challenges along the way…the attorney will tell you that. Up front.
It’s important to mention here that the trademark filing fee is $275. You don’t get that back if the trademark isn’t approved. So, before you spend time and money on the filing fee, and investing in your brand, you need a legal opinion on that trademark. That’s not a LegalZoom thing.
#3. LegalZoom says, “If you’re comfortable that there are no conflicts that would stop the USPTO from registering your trademark, your trademark application will be completed using our LegalZip software.”
Wait. What? (
I might have just laughed. No, I did laugh. Heartily.)
So, now they want you to make a legal assessment about whether the conflicts they discovered through the comprehensive search would prevent the successful registration of your trademark. Excuse my French but…how the hell are you supposed to know that? Have you reviewed previous USPTO decisions to know what they are likely to rule is a “likelihood of confusion” with another trademark? C’mon LegalZoom…
Then it gets worse… if you are comfortable with your intellectual property and trademark skills then hit that lil’ button and your trademark will be swept right on through their software.
Just in case you’re wondering, they describe LegalZip as “Legal document preparation services and providing general legal information via a website on global computer networks.”
No where in that description does it say you are getting legal counsel, peeps. No where.
And here’s the next problem…
When a trademark attorney submits your application, they don’t just take exactly what you say and submit it to the USPTO. For example, my clients complete a trademark intake but I use that as a starting point to craft their goods and services in a way that specifically protects what they’re offering under that proposed trademark but broad enough to give them some flexibility. I also make sure the classifications I’m registering my clients’ proposed trademark in aligns with the services or products they’re actually offering. You can’t just lump everything under the sun into the same classification.
I always review my clients websites to see if they’re using the proposed trademark in a way that will support the successful registration of it, and if not, I give specific recommendations on what needs to be tweaked. And, I always have a conversation with my clients around their business and brand expansion plans to make sure what we’re filing actually makes sense for their long term goals. I don’t make short-sighted decisions for my clients and things like filing a trademark should fall within an overall strategy.
This is the type of work that a trademark attorney does for you.
I’ll bet my last dollar LegalZip doesn’t do that.
But they do include this Legal Peace of Mind Review where “document scriveners” (not attorneys…peeps) check your application for grammatical errors. Dope.
#4. Then after all of that, LegalZoom says, once this is submitted and accepted, you’ll receive your official registration letter from USPTO.
About 80% of submitted trademark applications receive a preliminary denial. So, more likely than not, your application will come back and more work will need to be done. Yes, responding to those preliminary denials (called “office actions”) require additional fees. Trademark attorneys may also charge an additional fee for handling these responses. But again you get a real life, personal attorney who is going to advise you on the best way to respond and actually talk to the attorney handling your file with the USPTO as necessary to get squared away on any issues.
And while you’re dealing with LegalZoom for trademarks, you never receive legal counsel on:
- The strength of your proposed trademark
- The likelihood of it being successfully registered (NO attorney can 100% guarantee results but that clearance process should be a very strong indicator of how your registration process will unfold)
- Whether your proposed trademark needs modifications
- How to use your proposed trademark in your branding so that your trademark application is stronger going in
- What your options are if there are competing trademarks (you may not have to give it up completely)
- How to file your application in a way that’s going to give you the broadest protection
- How to avoid someone attempting to cancel your trademark even after it’s registered (yes, that’s a thing)
That pretty much sums it up. And yes, I’ve taken over LegalZoom trademark files before because…
Sometimes the drive-thru just doesn’t cut it.
Especially, when it comes to protecting your brand.
I wanted to dig deep into a LegalZoom service to really illustrate why it may not be your best bet. But, I do feel this way about their services, across the board. The key is you really, really need to read in between the lines and look at what isn’t being said.