Trademark vs. Copyright Q&A

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A reader writes:

My business name is “[name] & [name].” I have searched and it is not already copyrighted. I’d like to get it protected because my fear is that someone will beat me to copyrighting it and then I’ll be screwed out of a name I love. How important is it to copyright and is there another way to protect my name without having to spend about two grand on it?

This is a great question, but we need to clarify some things first. What it sounds like you really need is a trademark, not a copyright.

Copyright registrations are usually reserved for things such as a photograph, a finished graphic design, worksheets, e-books and even a newsletter. (Don’t worry peaches—once your work is fixed in a tangible medium, aka you write it down, snap the pictures, etc. you already own the copyright.)

What the heck is a trademark & why should I care?

A trademark, sometimes called just a ‘mark,’ is anything that can be used to identify and distinguish your goods or services from that of someone else. The main purpose of a trademark is to identify the source of where a good or service came from.

All those pretty logos, blog names, tag lines, unique catchy phrases and anything else that sets you apart and makes you immediately recognizable to the general public (aka your readers/customers/students/etc.) is a trademark, even if it’s not registered.

A trademark can be basically anything that distinguishes who is providing a good or service. Even if the mark is temporary and part of a campaign, like the Anthropologie ‘A,’ or merely words, like the Rifle Paper Co. logo, it is a trademark. Even the classic Coca-Cola bottle shape is a registered trademark of Coke.

Here’s the good news about trademarks

Simply using your name to advertise and sell products or services may be sufficient to establish trademark rights without registration.

Here’s the bad news about trademarks

If your trademark isn’t registered, you're losing a lot of benefits. One particular area is that the law is not clear on internet user’s rights to geographical use. So, unfortunately, even if you technically have an online presence worldwide, someone else may be able to use your name in certain locations. With unregistered marks, it all comes down to who was using a name first and what location they used it in.

Let’s look at an example of why this is important. Say you are based in Texas. A huge state! Lots of trademark rights there automatically, right? Well, not quite. If you do not register your trademark at the federal level, and you only have clients or customers in Dallas, you could lose the mark to a later user everywhere but the DFW metroplex. Now, if you have a federal registration instead, you have exclusive rights to use and enforce your trademark anywhere in the United States.

The benefits of registering a trademark

Reason #1

You will prevent others from using your trademarked name on their similar goods and services so as to avoid consumer confusion. This will happen when someone goes to register their confusingly similar or same name and they are refused registration. Essentially, your name is yours

Reason #2

You put everyone on notice nationwide that this is your name.

Reason #3

You look more legitimate as a business when you get to use the “®” registration symbol. It’s the difference between using “JaneDoe@gmail.com” and “Jane@JaneDoe.com.” You let everyone else in your industry know you’re serious about your name and game.

Reason #4

This is a big one—when you register your trademark, you get rights to sue infringers (i.e. copycats and meanie-heads) when they try to use your registered trademark.

Reason #5

If your mark is registered, infringing goods can be blocked from entering US customs.

Reason #6

You are entitled to statutory damages in instances of counterfeiting without having to show proof of actual damages. For example—think Coach purses. Where I grew up, both real and fake were quite abundant. Coach can sue the company Jane’s Fake Coach Purses for infringement and they will receive a certain amount of money as determined by law, without having to show how many more people would have purchased their real Coach purses had Jane’s Fake Coach Purses not been sold to those purchasers instead.

Reason #7

If you ever want to sell your company, it will be more valuable if you own federal registrations to your intellectual property (i.e. trademarks, patents and copyrights.)

How much does a registered trademark cost?

With all these great reasons to register your mark, what’s stopping you? If you’re like most business owners starting out, it’s the money, honey. Most of you are making a wager with your mark: if you register it, and fork over the money for registration, you get to keep your name indefinitely (aka until you let the mark expire.)

If you don’t register, someone may come along and take it. Does it happen? Yes. Is it likely? Not in my opinion. Because you already own the mark and use it in connection with your goods or services, others in your industry are already on notice that you exist.

If you would be absolutely devastated to lose the trademark, you may consider registration. If your business would not be decimated by someone else coming along and swooping off with your name for their goods or services, it may not be worth it to invest in a trademark registration just yet.

It would be savvy to budget about $1,500-$2,500 for a trademark registration. The filing fee to register your trademark in one class of goods is at least $325. However, it is not advisable you do it by yourself if you’re not a trademark attorney because it will end up costing you way more in the long run if you file incorrectly—the government is not Walmart, there’s no getting a refund or store credit back no matter what once you file.

Plus, with all that hard work and money, you want to make sure you’ve registered correctly. Filing in the wrong class of goods could be like not even filing at all. For those reasons, you will want to pay a filing fee plus attorney’s fees, which vary widely (the above estimate includes all of these.) However, the good news is that you can use an attorney anywhere in the United States for a federal trademark registration, so don’t be afraid to find someone in North Dakota or Florida, even if you live in Kansas.

How important is it to register my trademark?

If you are a business just starting out, it probably isn’t that important to register your trademark. Heck, if you’re like most businesses I’ve worked with (or started) you will probably have a new name and logo in two years anyway.

Ultimately, you as the business owner are the only one who can decide whether to register. You can always talk with an attorney, but until then, here are some benefits to registering your trademark.

Are you signing your contracts correctly?

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Signing your contract seems like a no-brainer, you just plop your signature on the line, right? Well, maybe... but there are a few things you should consider when you’re signing your client contracts before you type or sign your name.

1. If you’re entering into a contract with a client…

…then you’re signing your agreement as your company. This doesn’t mean you’re actually signing your company’s name (see the example below.) Someone who has the authority to sign documents on behalf of your company signs their name, and indicates their position within the company.

Generally, someone who has the power to sign contracts is someone who has the authority to make decisions by themselves without the input of others, like an owner of a company. So, for example, if a receptionist signed a client contract and didn’t have the authority to do so, the contract may be considered void and therefore worthless because the receptionist didn’t have the authority to enter into a contract on the company’s behalf.

I use HoneyBook to sign my contracts (that's an affiliate link)

2. If you’ve married and changed your name…

…then you’re signing your contract as your legal name. So, for example, if you’ve legally changed your name, you’re signing your contract as your new name, even if the name of your company is different and still has your maiden name. If you haven’t legally changed your name yet, you’re still signing your contracts as your maiden name.

Here are some examples:

3. If you have a company…

…your company is properly named and your title is properly listed. These two things help clarify exactly who and how you are entering the agreement. It also shows that your company is entering into the agreement, rather than you entering the contract on a personal level. By signing the agreement as the owner of your company, rather merely your name, you help limit your personal liability should any big problems arise later, as it is your company entering into the contract and not you. So, if big problems pop up, someone can come after your business assets (business funds, trademarks, etc.) but typically not your personal assets (car, house, kid’s college fund, etc.)

Even if you don’t have an LLC or C-Corp, you can still sign as your company (like the Mickey Mouse example below, without the “LLC.”)

Check it out in an example:

Alternatively, here’s how Mickey Mouse would sign if he didn’t have an LLC:

Questions? Comments? Are you going to be changing how you sign your contracts now?

how do you sign a contract #business #entrepreneur

7 business books to read BEFORE you buy another online course

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I get struck down by shiny object syndrome more times than I’d like to admit. I see a new course and I instantly want in. I’ll often try to justify it in terms of what it means financially for my business. If you were in my brain, you could hear the back and forth of, “well, if I did an extra launch and sold 13 courses from two emails that I have room for in two weeks, then I could pay for this course…” and on it goes.

Online courses are just so tempting though, aren’t they? Sometimes it can feel like the only way to truly jump-start your business and put some skin in the game, as they say.

When you drop a lot of money on your business all at once by purchasing an online course, the thinking goes, you’ll be more motivated than ever to follow through and make some huge changes that permanently take your biz to the next level.

If my bank balance could talk, this is what it would say: “But Christina, are online courses really the only way to make huge leaps in your business?” My wise bank balance — always keeping me in check (gettit? #SoPunny).

Before you hit that ‘BUY NOW’ button, seriously think about putting in the time and fully digesting some must-read business books that could accomplish the very same thing for you as that pricey online course.

The secret is to get outside your own industry when choosing which books to delve into! It sheds light on your own business in a powerful way, and you’ll get to hear different voices that grab your attention instead of fading into the background of the authors/writers/speakers you’ve probably been following for years now.

7 books to add to your business wishlist

1. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Contagious is always the first business book that comes to mind when someone asks me for a business book recommendation. (Psst: I didn’t actually “read” it at all, and if you’re on-the-go like I am, I highly recommend an Audible subscription so you can do the same thing! I listened to Contagious over the course of a couple of long car drives.)

The reason why this book is so revolutionary is because it forces you to think about what’s really going on in your business. And then it guides through the process of taking your brand from an everyday, ho-hum operation competing in a saturated market to a contagious brand with insane amounts of publicity. The examples in the book are so spot on, too. For instance, what’s the difference between the Ubers of the world and plain yellow taxi cabs? And what makes you want to share or refer a business to begin with? This book has the insight needed to answer AND IMPLEMENT all this and more.

It can be a dense book because it covers some huge topics, but it’s light-hearted and quick to digest if you listen to it chapter-by-chapter.

2. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

I just adore Chris Guillebeau — everything that he does is so very generous, informative and super helpful. You may have already heard of The $100 Startup (and if you have and haven’t read it, it’s time to get on that). It’s all about starting a business when you have very, very little capital. This book gets to the bottom of all of it: What does a lean startup look like? How do you do it? What kind of business can you actually create with $100?

When I first started out, the only businesses I could think to start had huge startup costs and very low returns. Case in point: my miserably failed horse breeding business in law school. Yeah.

I wish I had come across The $100 Startup sooner because it showed me I didn’t need a ton of capital to start a business, I just thought I did! This book taught me exactly how to bootstrap and find the resources to launch a business for next-to-nothing.

If we’ve been hanging out for a while, you’ve definitely heard me say, “Do what you can with what you have.” Sure, we all want to have the perfect-looking product, service, or sales page, but you know what? Having something that sucks that makes money and can be improved is way better than something that doesn’t exist.

Get more tips like these right in your inbox >>>

3. Your Best Year by Lisa Jacobs

Your Best Year is a genius and inspiring productivity workbook and online business planner. Lisa wrote this gem specifically for creative entrepreneurs and it walks you past the fear of starting up, through the daunting task of setting goals, and keeps you on pace with monthly and quarterly accountability sheets. Since she’s a creative entrepreneur herself, she’s truly a master as she guides you through making the most of your business this year (and beyond, of course!).

You’re going to love the worksheets and strategies inside this fresh new planning system that creates space and opportunity for the massive growth you’ve always wanted to make happen in your business. (I love it so much that I gifted it to my team members!)

4. Make it Happen by Lara Casey

I’m a big believer in looking behind the scenes and seeing how someone else pulls it off. Lara does a really great job of peeling back the curtain of being a “successful business owner.” She gets very vulnerable and open as she lets us peek into her personal life and the journey she’s been on. This is more of a light read than some of my other recommendations, and it’s especially good paired with a Saturday morning cup of tea. Lara’s the founder of the Making Things Happen Conference, the magazine Southern Weddings, and the creator of the infamous PowerSheets. She knows her stuff! We can all learn so much from her.

Click here for a free guide to a legit + profitable business.

5. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

It’s a short read, which means you need to make it happen. If you’re a busy entrepreneur or you’re a mom, you can get through it in less than two hours.

Steal Like An Artist is very visual and poignant and really helps you realize that you aren’t alone on this journey. It’s a great reminder that just because other people out there are doing the same kinds of things as you, it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.

There’s plenty of room for all of us, and we can never hear that piece of wisdom too many times!

6. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Y’all, this is a LONG read, but I’m really sad that I’m already a third of the way through it! You all know Tim Ferriss. I love the guy, and I love podcasts, but for some reason, I just don’t like to listen to his podcast. He’s taken the effort out and created an ENTIRE VOLUME of “too long, didn’t listen” material. It’s amazing, I can’t rave about it enough. I’ve already learned how to track my own emails when I sign up for others’ blog opt-ins, how to actually break a bad habit and what kind of security I should be implementing for super-safe internet surfing.

7. Launch by Jeff Walker

Jeff has a course that everyone who has been on the internet for more than five minutes is familiar with: Product Launch Formula. He takes you behind the scenes of his formula, admittedly with some gratuitous client success stories. Nevertheless, it’s a quick, addicting read if you are looking for a breakthrough with an upcoming launch of your next product or service.

BONUS! Because I couldn’t limit myself to 7 books (and because odd numbers are better blog titles)... 6 Months to 6 Figures by Peter Voogd

My hero and personal coach, Adrienne Dorison, recommended this book on her podcast a while ago (is it a coincidence she shows up in the back of it??). It is truly a great reminder for some of us, and a great system for others who are newer, as to what it takes to achieve higher revenues in our businesses.

Share your must-read biz books in the comments, I’m always look for new reads (er, listens).

Books to read when starting or growing your business. #business #smallbusiness #creative #entrepreneur