Have you ever considered registering a trademark for your business? All those fancy ™ and Ⓡ marks might seem like they are only for multi-million dollar, big-name players, but the truth is that every entrepreneur (big or small) ought to be thinking about how they can protect their unique business identities.
And the way to do that is with a trademark.
But what exactly IS a trademark? Lots of people get them confused with copyrights, so let’s talk about the differences real quick.
You register a trademark for your business name, your unique tagline, any catchy phrases that you always use that are unique to your business, your business logo(s), or anything else that is intrinsic to your brand identity or makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Copyrights are for your creative output… the photos you create, the artwork you make, the writing you produce. Copyrights protect the amazing, original work you’ve made from other people who want to make a profit off of it.
So getting back to trademarks, what are the benefits of registering one, anyway? Aren’t you already protected, more or less? I mean, what other company would start using your taglines or company name?
Sadly, this kind of infringement is more common than you’d think. Sometimes the other person is just not aware that you’re already using the name, logo, tagline, or catch phrase that you are. Sometimes they’re aware, but just don’t care or think it “matters.” Other times, it’s part of blatant effort to rip off your brand and reputation and use it to sell their own services or products.
Since you can’t control what other people do, the next best thing is to make sure that you’ve protected yourself as much as possible.
Registering a trademark gives you legal protection on a broader scale.
If you register your business name, logo, tagline, phrase, etc, that means no one else can use it on a country-wide level. (Different countries have different requirements for trademarks and if you’re working on an international level, I recommend that you get a lawyer to help you!)
The “rules” about first use and geographic limitation for trademarks a bit blurry… what that means is that if you were the first to use a business name but only had clients in a limited area, and then someone else picked it up but worked internationally, you’d probably lose out in a legal battle and would be limited to using your business name only in your original location. (In other words, kiss your chances of expanding with that name goodbye!)
It’s better just to protect yourself from the get-go and make sure you have the full rights to anything that uniquely brands your business.
Registering a trademark makes you look more legitimate as a business.
First of all, it prevents others from creating confusing copy-cat businesses that could detract from your reputation and brand clarity. If someone else tries to trademark something that is too similar to your business’s trademarks, they will automatically get denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Second, business legitimacy is all about appearances… and having the ™ or the Ⓡ after your chosen trademark lends legitimacy in spades. (It also helps protect your trademark, so if you DO have one, make sure to put that ® everywhere!)
Registering a trademark makes it easier to win in legal challenges.
Have you ever worried about getting into a legal battle with someone else, and how long and arduous a process that might be? The nice thing about having a registered trademark is that if someone else infringes on your rights, your rights are significantly more clear cut, and you won’t have to spend months in court trying to prove that you’ve incurred damages.
So, are you thinking about what unique branding elements of your business are worthy of a trademark yet?
For all the reasons listed above, I’d encourage you to seriously consider it. You have plenty of other worries as a business owner… having to worry about someone else stealing your business name or unique catch phrase shouldn’t be one of them!
Trademarks can be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, however, if you decide to register I highly recommend doing it with a lawyer’s help. That’s because the trademarking process can be convoluted, there’s different product “categories,” and if you do it incorrectly… there are no refunds. A good lawyer will guide you through the process and make sure that you’re fully protected in all the areas you need to be.
Any questions about trademarks? Pop ‘em in the comments!