One of the most important and exciting things about starting a business is figuring out your branding. You think of a name, tagline and hire a graphic designer to create a logo for your company. Of course, you can’t forget the all-important mission, vision, goals and objectives that reel in customers and investors.
Risk Management Through Trademarking
Although you may be tempted to start using your newly-created materials for marketing, you should slow down and do some research on your name, logo and other branding components.
You don’t want to suddenly receive correspondence from another company that you stole their name and branding for your own benefit. This could leave you with no choice but to shut down your company or go to trial.
This situation is rare, unless you’re actively trying to copy another company’s name and likeness. However, its consequences are far-reaching. If you face legal action, you have to attend court sessions and pay for legal fees. Fortunately, you can steer clear of this problem by doing your due diligence as a business owner and do a simple Google search.
Not every owner will have the same mentality when it comes to their own company. So, what can you do to ensure that your own branding is safe from accidental or intentional copying?
An effective way to protect your brand from copycats is to get a trademark. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) identifies a trademark is a phrase, symbol, word, or design that associates and differentiates the goods of one business from others.
There’s also a service mark, which identifies and differentiates one service from another. A trademark can last forever, unlike patents or copyrights. All you need to do is file the needed documents and pay regular fees for it.
Famous names, like Google and Microsoft, have very expensive trademarks. The former’s value is over $44.3 billion, whereas the latter is valued at $42.8 billion. Iconic logos like the Starbucks Mermaid and the Nike Check are trademarked, too. Even taglines like McDonald’s “I’m Loving it,” Apple’s “Think Different,” and Nike’s “Just Do It” are all part of their company’s trademark.
What Happens When You Infringe a Trademark
If you end up copying another brand’s logo, name, or even slogan, you could face a civil lawsuit in a state or federal court for trademark infringement. One of the well-known trademark infringement cases happened between sportswear brand Adidas and fast fashion brand Forever21, with the former accusing the latter of copying Adidas’ “three stripes” branding on the latter’s clothing.
If the other party is able to prove that you did infringe their trademark, you may receive a court order to stop using their name, slogan, product name, or logo. An order may also be passed to destroy or forfeit products and other articles that infringe on the trademark. They could also get a share of the profits you got using their trademark. In some cases, you may be required to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees, too.
How to Make Sure You’re Not Violating a Trademark
A simple Google search will show you if you have the same name or even tagline as someone else. Even if there’s a chance that that business’s branding isn’t trademarked, you should change yours immediately. You can never be too sure.
A more effective way to search for possible trademark violations is by searching on the USPTO website itself. What’s great about this database is that it’s constantly updated and it spans trademarks across America. If your business name, tagline and product names aren’t already registered or have any pending applications, you’re in the clear.
Apart from the legal ramifications, it’s just a drag to have your brand confused for something else — vice-versa. As such, it’s best to make sure your branding materials aren’t already taken, so you’ll have no worries about marketing it.
How to Protect Your Business With a Trademark
To protect your business with a trademark, you can apply for one online using the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). The USPTO requires you to create JPG images if your trademark involves stylized wording, logos, and other graphics.
Once you have those files, you can then move onto submitting an application. You have two options:
- TEAS Standard — This asks for only a few requirements upfront with a fee of $275 per goods and services class. You determine the description of your goods and services. You can provide the required additional statements, like stylized fonts, colors, portraits and names, after your initial application.
- TEAS Plus — You have to submit all your application requirements and fees in your initial application. However, the price is only $225 per class of goods or service. You also need to select your goods and services description from the Trademark Identification manual. If your business doesn’t fit any description from the manual, you need to switch to standard.
A trademark allows you to protect your business’s name and likeness from unauthorized parties who want to profit from it. Even though it’s a complicated and expensive process, it’s worth it in the long run. Your trademark will never expire as long as you maintain it with the appropriate requirements and regular payments. And it assures customers that they’re getting legitimate products and services from your company. It’s a matter of when, not if, you’ll apply for your trademark.