The following is an edited transcript of my video Does My Non-Profit Need Trademark Protection?
We have been blessed at EMP&A to work with dozens and dozens of nonprofits over the years, doing all kinds of great work. Some of them are in health and science fighting disease. Some of them are combating poverty and homelessness. Some of them are campaigning for equity and justice and many, many other topics as well. Those are just some that come to mind today. And believe it or not, nonprofits definitely need trademark protection. You see, nonprofits have brands just like any other organization or business. It may be a misperception to some that nonprofits don’t have all of these issues, don’t have to deal with tackling legal formalities and other things if they’re not operating for profit. Just because they’re not for profit doesn’t mean that they don’t have funding and money and sometimes significant amounts of that.
Even if they’re operating with very little amounts of funding or money, their brand is often an extremely important part of their work in order to communicate to their community, to the people who they work with and help, to the people they fundraise from, to the other organizations that they partner with, and to much more. To the world on the internet and social media and via newsletters that they might share updates with about their progress. So their brands are very, very important and they are eligible for trademark protection just like any other brand. In fact, another misconception may be, “Well, what if they’re not really selling anything, transacting any money?” You don’t have to be selling something or transacting with any money in order to have commerce and trademark protection.
Fundraising certainly qualifies for trademark protection, but also just doing the work in the community or providing information and education is performing a service. And even if you are performing that service for free, you are performing a service to the public, and that is “commerce” in the world of trademarks under the rules, so the brand would be eligible for trademark protection and trademark registration. And believe it or not, nonprofits also can run into disputes, sometimes among each other or among other organizations who might launch a similar initiative with a similar brand name, or use their name without permission, and other issues where having trademark protection and registration is extremely valuable for the nonprofit, just like it is for any other business.
So, nonprofits really aren’t treated any differently in the world of trademarks from any other organization, business, association, entity. They are brands, they can and should be protected.