What can a trademark offer to your business?
Considering investing in a trademark for your business? Find out what it can offer, and why it could be a wise idea.
If you have a business, have you taken steps to adequately protect it? We would never consider not locking our office doors, or sharing passwords for our company accounts. But you’d be surprised at how few business owners think about protecting their biggest asset: their business brand.
In this article we’ll explore the topic of trademarks. We’ll find out what they are, what trademarks can offer your business, what you need to consider when applying for, or trying to find trademark in United States, and what to do if someone infringes on your trademark.
What is a trademark?
The definition of a ‘trademark’ is a symbol, word, or words that are legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product.
We may think of trademarks as modern inventions, but they have a much longer history than you may realise. The first law on trademarks was actually passed in 1266 under the reign of Henry III. Known as “the Assize of Bread and Ale”, it was a set of rules which regulated the size, weight and price of bread, and the purity of flour, to protect consumers. Bakers were required to use a distinctive sign to mark their bread so regulators could identify its origins.
Today, trademarks have become an important part of business. To the extent that in 2020 alone, 1,092,279 trademark patent applications were filed in the United States.
What can a trademark offer to your business?
So why go to the effort of applying for a trademark for your business? There are two important benefits of registering a trademark.
1) A trademark protects your company’s intellectual property
The first reason is probably the most important. By registering your trademark, you prevent someone else from doing so, and putting your business at risk.
Just imagine: you spend years growing your business, establishing your brand and reputation. And then someone comes along and sets up in competition using your name, or a very similar name or logo to you. There’s nothing to stop them from registering the trademark and actually stopping YOU from using it.
All that effort, that investment, those years are wasted. You need to start again with a new brand, while your competitor reaps the benefit of the goodwill you have earned.
Or, someone sets up in business copying your name or logo, and delivers substandard products or services. They start to build a poor reputation… but the problem is people think it’s you.
If you have a trademark you can take legal action to prevent them from using your name and logo (or similar ones) and stop them. But without a registered trademark there is nothing you can do; you have no legal grounds on which to prevent them from damaging your business.
2) A trademark makes your business more valuable
The more successful your business becomes, the more valuable your trademark becomes. And if you ever wish to sell your business, or apply for investment, one of the things interested parties will look for is whether you have trademarked your name and key products or services.
There are some good reasons for this. As we have already covered, trademark registration increases the security of your business and ensures other people can’t imitate it and devalue it. It also gives important clarity in the case of a merger or franchising of the business. And finally, a trademarked name, product or service is an asset in itself, with an intrinsic value.
What do you need to consider when applying for a trademark?
If you are thinking of applying for a trademark for your business, there are some things you need to consider first.
Before investing time and money on filing an application, it is important to do a search to check whether your mark is already in use or registered by someone else. Or whether there is already a similar trademark in the United States. This will prevent you from accidentally duplicating a pre-existing mark, and wasting your time and money on a rejected application. (Fees for rejected applications are not refundable.)
This is a wise action to take when you first start a company, even if you aren’t in a position to consider trademarking yet. At this stage it is easy to change your company name if you discover it it already in use. It is much harder to make a change when you have invested years and money in a brand and built goodwill and valuable organic search in your business name.
Another consideration when applying for a trademark for your business is the markets you are active (or plan to be active) in, and the classes of services or products you provide (or plan to provide in the next few years). Your trademark will only be as good as the extent of protection it offers you.
And finally, your work isn’t done once you have applied for your initial trademark(s). As your business grows, ensure that any new offerings are checked against existing trademarks, and that they are covered by your existing trademarks and markets. If not, you may need to file supplemental registration applications.
If your brand evolves over time, you may also need to make new applications to protect the altered versions of your trademarks.
What happens if someone infringes on your trademark?
A trademark alone does not protect your business from copycats. What it does give you is the legal right to protect yourself. So if you notice someone infringing on your trademark, you will need to take action to enforce your rights.
Sometimes a simple cease and desist letter by an IP attorney is enough to stop the other party. And the sooner you take action the better – the longer someone else uses your name and brand, (or a similar one) the more damage they’ll do, and the less willing they will be to give up on it easily. Failing to enforce your trademark can even lead to the potential loss of your exclusive rights.
Having a legal binding trademark that adequately covers you will enable you to enforce your rights and prevent other business from stealing, damaging or devaluing your business.