Your brand is your business. Here’s how to make sure no one takes it away from you.What’s the most important aspect of your business? The product? The people? The proprietary tech? While all those are what will eventually bring you success, arguably the most important part of your company is actually its name. Your brand—that sprawling, sometimes hard to nail down collection of ‘things’ you’ve created—is what makes you stand out from the competition, instill trust in your customers, and bring in new business. Just think about this: When you pull into a McDonalds, you have an expectation of the service and product you’re going to receive. The same goes when you choose to spend money on an Apple laptop or a BMW. Your company name acts as a mental shortcut for consumers. All the goodwill and recognition you create through building a great product, producing interesting content, and building your brand does nothing without a central name for customers to latch onto. According to Forbes’ annual ‘The World’s Most Valuable Brand’ list, Apple’s ‘brand’ is worth $154.1 billion alone, while Google comes in at $82.5 billion, and Microsoft rounds out the top 3 at $75.2 billion.
“Your name ?is? your company. Without the right protection, someone can come in and leach off all the hard work you’ve done to build it.”So, how do you go about protecting your most valuable asset? We spoke to Howard M. Cohn, a registered patent attorney who has worked with companies like IBM, NASA, and Good Year to help protect their intellectual property, about what a trademark does for your company and how you can register one quickly and easily.
What is a trademark?“On the most fundamental level, a trademark is a name, logo, or other symbol used to identify the source of a product or a service,” explains Howard. Think about the Starbucks logo attached to a cup of coffee (indicating to consumers that the coffee contained within that cup originated from the Starbucks Corporation), or the swoosh on your Nikes, indicating that the shoes were created by the Nike company As we mentioned before, a trademarked name is an information shortcut for consumers. It tells them that the product they’re buying is backed by the years of work you’ve put in creating trust and value. But having a trademark is important for a number of reasons beyond just brand recognition.
You can’t sell what you don’t ownFirst off, if you have any desire to sell your company, even if that’s off in the distant future, you need to actually own the name of the company you’ve spent so long building.
Without a trademark, you can no way to protect what’s yoursMoreover, if you don’t protect your products and services with a trademark, another company can swoop in and use your name or logo on their own version and there’s nothing you can do about it. While that’s the short answer, there is one caveat: You can’t actually register a trademark for your company name. Instead, you can acquire a trademark on the products and services that your company provides. It’s a bit of a confusing distinction, but here’s how Howard explains it:
“The Exxon company cannot get a Trademark on the name Exxon when associated with the Corporation. However, they can get a Trademark on Exxon when associated with their products such as Exxon oil or Exxon gas.”You can’t just trademark your name and sit on it. It needs to be associated with the products you make and the services you provide.
How do you register a trademark (and what do they do?)Registering a trademark is simple on the surface, but ultimately a task that you’ll probably want a bit of help with. Here’s the process broken down into a few simple steps:
1. Conduct a trademark name searchTo trademark your company name you need to ensure that you’re not using someone else’s name in the first place. Generally in the US, a trademark attorney will conduct a name search directly on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) database and see if your proposed Trademark is already registered for similar products and services and therefore available for you to register. If your name is already in use and registered with the USPTO by someone else, you can either modify it so that it is sufficiently dissimilar to the already registered mark (to distinguish your products and services from competing products and/or services) or come up with an entirely new trademark.
2. Choose a unique trademarkIt’s important that the mark you choose is unique enough to earn customer recognition and to distinguish the mark from any exiting marks owned by others. And how do you ensure your name isn’t conflicting with an existing trademark? Howard describes it as the ‘Polaroid Test’:
“When viewing your product with your desired Mark plastered across it, would an ordinary consumer mistakenly believe that a different company produced that good, because of the similarity between your mark and the competing company? Would the consumer be confused as to the source or origin of the product? If the answer is yes, there is likely a conflict and one would be wise select another Mark.”
3. Prepare your Trademark ApplicationOnce the search is complete, your attorney will prepare the Trademark Application and, once it’s approved by you, file it with the USPTO. At this point you can start using a TM next to your trademark. Deciding on your trademark and filing an application is something you shouldn’t wait on as the moment the Trademark Application is filed, it is being ‘used’ on a national level and another person cannot prevail if they file a Trademark Application with the same or similar mark. Once the Trademark Application has been examined by a Trademark examiner at the U.S. Trademark Office and has been accepted, it is considered registered and a ® should be inserted next to the Trademark to indicate that it has full protection and may not be used by other companies within the U.S. without permission.
How to trademark a logoIf you’ve created a quality logo for your company, you’ll want to protect it from would-be imposters as well. Luckily, a logo is trademarked in the same way as any name or symbol using the above process. Simply talk to your attorney to make sure your logo isn’t infringing on any existing trademarked symbols and then file another application.
When should you register for a trademark?Even if your company just launched, you’ll want to look into registering a trademark. Why? Ultimately, the goal of any company is to sell (even if that goal is way off in the distant future), and without a trademark on your company name you’ll be unable to do that. Your trademarks are central to your brand identity and it’s critical that you protect them at all costs.
What is the cost of registering a trademark?The cost of registering a trademark varies on what particular ‘class’ of goods you’re selling. For example, while ‘Medical Supplies’ fall in one Class, clothing falls into a different Class. When filing a Trademark application, the particular goods and services have to be specified. If it turns out that they fall into more than one Class, there is an additional Government filing fee for each additional class. If you want to see how much your trademark filling might cost for your company name and logo, we’ve put together a few trademark packages you can check out here.
What’s the difference between a trademark and copyright?A trademark and copyright are different things, yet it’s easy to get confused about the two. Here’s the easiest way to think about it:
“While Trademarks serve to indicate the source of a product or service, Copyrights protect the actual artistic and/or literary work that an individual creates.”So, J. K Rowling has a copyright on the storyline, characters, and written words contained within her Harry Potter novels.
What do I do if someone is infringing on my trademark?Having a trademark is having a right to protect what you’ve created. If someone is infringing on your Trademark, you may have an attorney draft a Cease and Desist letter demanding that the infringing individual immediately stop using your mark or face the legal consequences.
Your brand and logo are your company. And without the right protection, someone else can reap the benefits of all the hard work you’ve put into creating them. It may seem like another ‘boring’ task for your startup, but doing the legwork early on and getting help to properly trademark your company name and logo is guaranteed to save you a massive headache down the road.