The world of copyright and trademark can be quite tricky. If your local community college offers a class in intellectual property, it is a worthwhile investment. The big thing I find missing from this discussion is the idea of a service mark.
A service mark (SM instead of TM) can be used for a service and will act like a trademark. By adding SM after the word or phrase you are considering for a trademark and using it consistently from day one, you should have a similar protection as long as no one else placed the word or phrase in use before you did.
Keep in mind, however, that pursuit of a trademark is only useful if you have the staffing and money to enforce it by tracking others who are using it, contacting them to ask that they do not use it (or willingly changing your own service mark if they had it in use first), and potentially bringing legal suit against the party infringing on your rights. I am guessing that you are not quite ready to handle all of that on your own. When just getting started, most entrepreneurs aren`t.
You may want to explore more about these ideas at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (uspto.gov). You can do a quick and dirty trademark search there and can call them directly to try and get some of your questions answered, only turning to a intellectual property lawyer when critical. The process for applying for trademark is also detailed.
Melanie R. Negrin, Merocune Marketing & Public Relations
Melanie R. Negrin
Owner & Managing Director
Merocuné Marketing & Public Relations