You should probably trademark your startup shortly after you incorporate for two reasons:
- If you’ve done a comprehensive trademark search (which occurs during the filing process)—you can find out if you’re actually infringing on another company’s mark and avoid significant legal risks.
- Although you can claim ownership of your trademark without formally registering with the Office, your rights are limited to the geographic regions where your trademark is used, so formally filing it will afford you maximum legal protection.
There are a few options out there for the filing process. You can file a trademark directly with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or use an online service like LegalZoom that charges an amount in addition to the federal filing fees, but it’s almost always better to hire an attorney to handle your trademark and other intellectual property stuff. This may sound self-serving but there's a study that analyzed 25 years of USPTO data and revealed that applicants who used an attorney were 50% more likely to get their marks approved than those who applied without legal representation (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/pape...).