Trademarks are either word, slogans, logos, designs, or a combination of any of these elements, used to identify a company or brand with its products. In other words, no two companies, selling the same types of products and/or services, can have the same trademark. A trademark is a brand’s very identity and must be protected. Trademark Protection, you need to devise a clear and well-thought-out strategy that considers both the creative and commercial value of your prospective trademark. However, first understanding the full importance and legal significance of trademarks will allow one to recognize the need for an effective trademark protection strategy. So, let’s dive into some trademark fundamentals.
Importance of trademarks for your business
- Helps customers find and recognize your brand: Staying in a crowded market without a name or identity is simply dangerous for the longevity of a new company’s brand. Trademarks distinguish you from other brands, making it easier for customers to find you; Because many brands offer the same services and products a powerful trademark helps your customers feel comfortable that they are dealing with you and not your competitor.
- Trademarks act as a communication tool: Trademarks are a testament to the quality of your company’s brand, even in your absence. A trademark precedes you and the mere presence of a powerful name like, ROLEX, for example, shows people from all over the world what the brand stands for.
- Trademarks are assets: Trademarks are not just abstract conceptualizations but are truly financial assets. The value of trademarks increases with time, and as your business grows, the name grows as well. Eventually, bigger corporations will want to identify their own products with your powerful brand and may very well be willing to either license or buy your trademark/s outright.
- Trademarks make using social media platforms more effective: For a brand that has an online presence on different social media platforms, your trademark is what helps customers to find and connect with you. The more your brand is searched for, the higher your rankings become, and ultimately, the more traffic your page will get.
- Trademarks do not expire: So long as you are still using the trademark in commerce, you will maintain your rights to the trademark. However, if you stop using your trademark, you will cause it to go abandoned.
- Attracts and improves human resources: Who wouldn’t want to work with a popular brand? With a well-known trademark, hiring workers is easier because everyone wants to be a part of something big. Employees will have a greater sense of pride and awareness when working for a prodigious company.
Protecting your trademark
To protect your trademark, there are certain strategic and legal considerations that must be taken into account both before the trademark is applied for and again, after it has obtained a registration from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Below is an overview of different steps one must take to acquire a trademark and protect it:
- Please do your research: The first step to protecting your trademark is conducting preliminary research in the USPTO register to determine the availability of the trademark. If proper research is done before submitting a trademark application, the risk of having the trademark rejected is greatly reduced.
- Apply for a trademark: after your research, once you are sure that the chosen name, logo, or phrase is unique to only your brand, you may proceed with filing the trademark application. During this process, you will be required to provide information about your brand, the type of service and product offered, an image of your desired trademark (if you are applying for a Logo), and proof that you are using the trademark in commerce. All of this information must be accurate for the application to proceed.
- Respond to office actions: after submitting your application, be ready at all times to respond to any preliminary rejections of your trademark, or what are legally referred to as, Office Actions. Ensure that you do not miss the deadline because your application will be abandoned if you fail to respond to the Office Action in time (within 6 months of receiving it).
- Monitor your trademark: Before trademarks are registered, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publishes them to the “Official Gazette) for the public to see and potentially oppose the trademark’s registration if it is an infringement on an existing trademark. So, it is critical for a trademark holder (you!) to protect your own trademark by monitoring the Official Gazette and oppose other trademarks that are too similar to yours.
Apart from doing preliminary research prior to filing your trademark application and monitoring pending trademarks for infringement of your trademark, there are other actions and milestones that must be met for your to main your proprietary rights to your trademark, including:
- Renewing your trademark: make sure you renew your trademark registration according to the appropriate dates (typically within 5 and 10 years of the trademark’s registration). If you miss these deadlines, you run the risk of Abandoning your trademark.
- Continue to Use Your Trademark: Trademarks only maintain their protectability for as long as they are actually used in commerce. If you stop selling your products or services under the banner of your trademark/s, you will lose the rights to your trademark/s.
- Hire a Trademark Monitoring service: It can be both challenging and at times overwhelming to continuously keep track of who may or may not be illicitly using a trademark that is too similar to yours. A watch service will alert you on any unauthorized use of your mark and notify you of new trademark filings and applications
- Have a policy for how cases of misuse or copying will be handled: Knowing what to do before a problem arises will make everything easier. If your trademark is subject to infringement, you must confront the infringer head-on and enforce your trademark rights. Therefore, set a standard rule for how such cases will be handled before they arise.
Building a brand is not easy, and developing a popular trademark will not happen overnight. Hence, the tendency for popular trademarks to be copied by other smaller brands. However, your brand doesn’t have to be the biggest before you start creating a trademark protection strategy. Of course, everyone hopes to grow a large and well known-brand; the important thing is that you just get started.
With a solid and concrete trademark protection strategy, you will not just protect your trademark, but you will also have the necessary tools and plans in place for future infringements. Setting the stage now and putting everything in place before the emergence of an issue will save you a great deal of future financial pain and frustration.
In sum, protecting your trademark starts with the planning and registration process. If your trademark protection strategy is solid, which is to say, your trademark is unique to your business and the products/services you sell, the registration process will go smoothly and you will hopefully avoid any office actions against the mark.
Have experience with protecting or enforcing your company’s trademark? Please feel free to share your experiences and opinions in the comment box.