Why Trademarks are Important to Your Business and 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Protect Your Trademarks
A trademark is your brand. It represents the source and quality of the goods or services you provide. A distinctive trademark allows your business to build public goodwill and brand reputation in the goods or services you sell.
Just some of reasons trademarks are important assets for any company include:
Trademarks distinguish you from your competitors.
Your trademarks provide one way you can stand out and apart from your competition. When consumers encounter your trademarks in the marketplace, they immediately know who they are purchasing from, and the quality of the goods/services.
Trademarks are tools to communicate with your consumers.
Brands influence purchasing decisions, and your marks make it easy for your consumers to find you. You can use marks to communicate effectively in media, including print and social media. For example, consumers looking for your goods/services may start by typing your brand name in an Internet search.
Trademarks are assets that can appreciate over time.
Trademarks can last for as long as you use them. Even better, the more you invest in developing goodwill behind your mark, the more valuable it becomes.
Consider your business. What words, symbols or designs identify your business and its product lines?
A trademark can be any word, symbol or phrase that identifies goods or services. Some examples include “SAMSUNG” for various electronics, “CARIBOU COFFEE” for restaurant services and retail store services in the field of coffee, and “BARNES & NOBLE” for book distributorship services and retail book store services.
Symbols that function as trademarks include the Target "bullseye" and the Nike "swoosh."
When you see these famous words and symbols, you immediately know the source and quality of the goods/services provided in connection with these marks.
Because trademarks distinguish you from other businesses, they are an important aspect of your business itself. What aspects of your business serve to distinguish your company from your competitors?
Your COMPANY NAME is the first - and likely the most important - trademark. This mark embodies the goodwill you have built up in your company.
PRODUCT OR SERVICE LINES can be important trademarks for your business. These marks distinguish your products/services from those of your competitors and identify you as the source of those products/services.
PHRASES OR TAGLINES can serve as source identifiers. For example, when you see the tagline, “Just Do It,” what company comes to mind?
Now that you have an idea of where you may have trademark rights, here are 5 things you can do right now to protect them:
1. Use “TM” or ® after your mark every time you use it in print or other media.
These designations put third parties on notice that you assert trademark rights in the mark.
Note: consult an attorney before using the ® symbol, since you can only use it if you have a federal registration.
2. Set your mark apart, literally.
Use your trademark in a distinctive way, so consumers recognize its importance as your brand. When using your mark in various media, set it apart from other text, and use your mark in all capital letters, a distinctive font, and/or a distinctive color scheme. Make it stand out.
3. If you haven’t already, register your trademark.
Registration is available at the state or federal level, and it provides you with the ability to prevent others from using marks that are confusingly similar to yours. Registration is relatively inexpensive and a good investment.
4. Use your trademark as a brand name.
In other words, use the mark as an adjective, followed by the generic name of the product (or services) you provide. For example, you have a “SAMSUNG phone.” Avoid using your mark as a verb or noun (for example, do not say you are “rollerblading”).
5. Use your mark in a consistent way.
This is particularly important for trademarks that include a design element. Choose one way to depict your mark, and stick with that format. Changing the mark in any way could change your trademark rights.
Trademarks are valuable assets of any company, regardless of size. With the proper attention, your trademarks can last indefinitely and continue to increase in value over time. For additional tips, see my website.
You have an invention, and you want to find a patent attorney to help you protect your ideas. How do you find the right patent attorney for your project?
Here are 8 tips to finding the right fit:
· Take some time to develop a summary of your invention, for example:
What technology does it involve? Who are your competitors, and how crowded is the field? What aspects of your invention need to be protected? What does your invention contribute to your field?
This will help you determine what type of attorney you will need. Intellectual property covers many areas, including patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret. You will want to find an attorney who can meet all of your needs.
· Ask for recommendations from other inventors or local inventor groups.
You can find local inventor organizations at the USPTO website here: Organizations for Inventors.
· Search the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) records.
The USPTO maintains a roster of all registered patent attorneys and agents at: Persons Recognized to Practice in Patent Matters. You can search the roster by name or geographic location.
· Make sure your prospective attorney is in good standing at the USPTO by searching their disciplinary history at: The USPTO Office of Enrollment and Discipline or by calling (571) 272.4097.
· Make sure your prospective attorney is in good standing with their state bar. Patent attorneys have to maintain ethical and continuing education standards both before the USPTO and before the state bar in which they are licensed.
· Contact more than one attorney, so you can compare.
Once you have two or more attorneys on your list, you will want to make sure they are a good fit for your needs. Some initial questions to ask the attorney include:
· Do they have experience working in your technology area?
Patent attorneys often develop areas of expertise around their education backgrounds and client experience. Different technology areas have different considerations. Ask if they have drafted patent applications in your technology area, and what types of clients they currently serve.
· Do they have experience with inventors like you?
Are you a solo inventor? A start up technology company? An established company building your portfolio? Each of these scenarios provides its own unique considerations for patenting.
Finding the right patent attorney for your project can take some time, but it is well worth the investment. Do some investigation and trust your instincts when making a final decision. Your relationship with your patent attorney should be a long and fruitful one.
Karrie Weaver practices intellectual property, trademark, and patent law. Additionally, she assists nonprofits with their charitable organization and 501(c)(3) status.