The following is a transcript of our YouTube video that has several thousand views. Following these five simple steps will help any small business create and maintain a strong brand.
- Search for conflicts
- Register brand name(s) with the USPTO
- Register other marks (logos, slogans, etc) with USPTO
- Monitor for infringements
- Be proactive
The first thing, when you’re launching a new brand, you’re taking a product to market, the first thing, do a search. Find any potentially conflicting marks out there. This can be a search of the USPTO’s database of trademark registrations and applications but you ought to go broader than that. Ideally, you do a comprehensive search, you enlist the help of an attorney, because a mark doesn’t have to be registered in order to cause a problem. And you want to know what’s out there. You want to know whether or not there’s going to be a conflict later on down the road before you’ve got a lot invested in your mark.
And by doing a proper clearance search, you’re basically starting on a solid foundation. If you do a proper search and it comes back clean, you’ve done your due diligence and you’re now building your brand on a solid foundation. If you don’t do a proper search, when you start a new product named service, business name, you’re basically taking a risk that that foundation that your brand is going to be built on, it has a hole in it or is weak or is rotting. And that can of course come back to haunt you and could cost you a lot of money or cause interruption with your business.
And it’s a big risk. It’s your name you’re gambling with.
Tip number two in protecting your brand is to register your brand names with the US Patent and Trademark Office. There is some investment involved, but the benefits of a trademark registration are great. Not only in terms of enhancing the value of your brand name as an asset, but in the legal protection that it’s provided and the notice to others by appearing in the USPTO’s database and by being able to use the registered trademark symbol, the R within a circle ®. So the investment in registering your brand is a very important step to protecting your brand.
And it also creates a tangible asset, which is oftentimes very important. I mean, it allows you to establish for others, I mean for any purpose really, that you have exclusive rights to that mark in connection with the goods and services that you offer. And it’s very important, as you’ll see in these other steps as well.
Our next tip in protecting your brand is to register other marks as well. And what we mean by other marks are logo designs, slogans or anything else that is unique and identifies your products and services uniquely. Sometimes it could be a element of your product’s design. Sometimes it could be the packaging for your product. It could be a sound, if you have a unique sound in the advertising of your services, like the NBC chimes.
It could be an aspect of the uniform worn by the people who provide your services or the building that you use to market them.
All of these things are assets that companies and businesses invest in to grow and make their brands unique. And oftentimes they forget to stop along the way and protect them and make those assets even stronger and even more valuable. So we always suggest taking stock and figure out how do customers recognize your product and distinguish it from your competitors, and go try and protect those aspects to make sure that you remain distinctive.
The fourth step is to monitor for possible infringements. You have the obligation to protect your mark. And so one of the easiest ways to do that is to go out and set up a Google alert and it’ll send you an email daily if you like about other instances of a term or word that maybe is a significant part of your mark being used by others on the internet. You should watch other registrations at the US Patent and Trademark Office. Ideally you want to get an attorney who’s involved in trademark law, perhaps a watch service that specializes in this because there’s great value in finding a potential infringer early on in the process.
It’s important not just to know about copycats or infringements and to be able to deal with them, but it’s important to know about them as soon and as quick as possible because the quicker you can communicate to another company that there’s a problem here with the trademark, the much greater chance of resolving it affordably, quickly, and without a protracted legal dispute. The more time that the other company has invested and the more resources they’ve invested in launching that brand name or that trademark, the more fight they’re going to have to put up to defend it because they’ve got so much more on the line. So if you can find out about possible infringers right away and then communicate to them right away, generally through an attorney with a demand letter or some sort of communication, you will have a much greater chance of success and of a quick and not overly expensive dispute.
And to be clear, not every infringer is someone who’s trying to steal from you or trade off your goodwill. Oftentimes it’s competitors or others in the marketplace who’ve skipped step one and haven’t done a search and don’t realize you’re out there, or thought that their mark was different enough to avoid confusion. And those are the people we’re talking about. Those are a lot of the concern uses and you want to get to those people, they’ll go away. I mean, if you talk to them early on, they don’t mean to cause problems.
And this transitions right into our fifth and final step for protecting your brand is to remain proactive. So it’s to do all of these things that we’ve discussed about in the first four steps over and over again. Every time you have a modification to your brand name or a new product or a new service with a new name that you’re offering or a new logo design, it’s to go back to step one. Do a search, register it, reevaluate your intellectual property portfolio every six months or every year. Make sure that nothing slipped through the cracks.
I work with clients all the time who came up with, for an example, a great name for a newsletter or a blog. And at the time it didn’t even occur to them that that was something protectable and valuable and they didn’t stop to do a search and register it. But if they set a plan every year or every few months to look at everything that their business is doing and communicating to their customers, then they can catch it early on and take the proper steps to clear it and file it and maximize the protection for them.