Protecting Intellectual Property (IP) is one of the most important aspects of a business. IP is basically a legal concept our society has adopted that there are recognizable rights for ‘creations of the mind’ – writing, music, inventions, goods, etc. I wrote a quickie post about IP here.
Without some form of legal protection in place, there is little course of action if another business attempts to infringe (or steal) your work.
In most cases, protecting basic IP is not extremely difficult or costly and may save time, money, and potentially your business down the road.
Trademarks are one of the most important forms of IP that your business can have.
A trademark is a word, phrase, design or symbol that distinguishes the goods from one party to another – it’s what makes your business unique and how customers come to know your brand.
Just think about it, what would Nike be without “Just Do It” or McDonalds without those golden arches?
It is amazing how the world of trademarks have developed – the color brown is trademarked to UPS for delivery vehicles, Absolut Vodka has trademarked the shape of their vodka bottles, and that pink bunny belongs to Energizer.
Trademarks help remind your customers exactly what they are getting when they choose your brand. With so many businesses starting out these days, it is important to protect your goods or services early on.
While registration is not legally required, registering a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will provide protection in the court of law.
Without registration, you cannot even file an infringement action and have to rely on other ways to stop the other party (ask nicely? send a scary lawyer letter?).
Registration gives the world constructive notice of your ownership of the brand/mark and the exclusive right to use it – you can also only use the ® if you have formally registered with the US Government.
Although registration is recommended, there are other ways to protect your trademark. This includes making sure you have an active presence wherever you do business (whether it’s a town or on the internet).
It is also a good idea to do some research before deciding on your mark to ensure that no one else is already using it -- if they are, be careful, because if they have registered it they can bring an action against you.
Careful: trademark infringement can occur not only when someone uses a phrase or designed that is already registered but also when someone uses a mark that creates a ‘likelihood-of-confusion’ with a protected mark.
For example, Absolut Vodka (owned by V&S Vin & Sprit) brought a case of trademark infringement against a radio station in the United Kingdom named Absolute Radio (owned by The Times of India) citing a likelihood of confusion between the two companies.
They were embroiled with the lawsuit for 18 months eventually settling and both companies were permitted to continue operating – many hours and attorney’s fees later. In cases were infringement is found by the court, penalties can include injunction (infringer must stop using the trademark) or monetary damages.
How FUN does that sound?
Bottom line - if you are invested in your brand, protect it!