As an entrepreneur, you’ve dreamed of starting your own business, and now your dream has become a reality.
You’ve invested your time, money, and energy into your passion, so it’s imperative to protect that investment. Whether you plan to sell nutritional products online or you’ve chosen the perfect spot for your coffee shop on Main Street, obtaining a federal trademark is a vital part of your future as a successful entrepreneur.
You may plan to start small or stay local, but it’s important to look ahead to the future. Do you plan to expand your business over time, or perhaps franchise in a few years?
When you register a federal trademark, whether it’s a business or product name, logo, slogan, or some other item that represents your brand, your mark has the presumption of nationwide validity.
When you are ready to grow your business, a registered trademark, and the legal protections that come with it, will be there. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, there were an estimated 49.3 million active trademark registrations worldwide in 2018 – up 13.8% on 2017, with 19.6 million in China alone, followed by 2.4 million in the U.S., and 1.9 million in India.
Consider these tips when registering your trademark.
Registering a Trademark Should Be One of Your First Priorities
When you decide to open your own business, you realize there are many things to accomplish before you get that new business up and running. From locating a workspace and designing a logo, to creating marketing material and hiring a workforce, your to-do list is never-ending.
Few things are as essential to the long-term success of your business, however than obtaining federal trademark protection.
Ideally, the process to register a trademark should be one of the very first things you do when starting a new business. Before you select a business or product name, it’s important to complete a thorough trademark search, to be sure that the name you’ve chosen isn’t already used by another business in your industry.
If the search determines that a competitor is using a similar name, it’s best to know this before you’ve invested money in signage, product labels, and marketing.
Once you determine that your chosen mark is not being used by a similar business, you should begin the process to register your trademark as soon as possible. This is because the date you file your application becomes your federal priority date.
Anyone that files a similar trademark application after your priority date may have their application rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO.
Choose a Strong Trademark From the Beginning
One of the biggest challenges in registering a federal trademark is finding a mark that is not already being used.
Trademark attorneys suggest choosing creative or inventive names over descriptive choices. For example, the brand name Kodak is an invented name now synonymous with cameras, though the name itself has nothing to do with the product.
Creative names are also less likely to be used by a similar business, and therefore may be easier to protect with a federal trademark registration than a descriptive name like Great Camera Company.
The reason you chose to start your business is that you felt you had something unique to offer, so the branding you choose to represent your business should be unique as well.
Consider this, not only when you choose your business’s name, but also when you design your logo, create your slogan, or select your color scheme. Any item that distinguishes your business or product from a competitor should be trademarked to protect your brand and business reputation.
Don’t Choose to Do-It-Yourself
Entrepreneurs, by nature, have a do-it-yourself mindset. That motivation and initiative is an asset in business, but may not serve you well when it comes to registering your federal trademark.
Entrepreneurs are often surprised by the level of detailed knowledge needed to complete a trademark registration. From the initial trademark search, to determining classes, it can be a lengthy, difficult process, involving multiple high level, legal decisions.
For example, legal websites may offer an online trademark search, but these searches typically look for exact matches. Trademark issues, however, usually arise not from exact matches but from similar trademarks.
While undetected by DIY searches, the comprehensive trademark searches completed by experienced trademark attorneys will reveal both exact and similar matches, which will decrease the possibility of your trademark being rejected.
In fact, a recent study by the University of North Carolina actually found that applications filed with the help of a trademark attorney were 50% more likely to be approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
In Order to Protect Your Trademark, You Must Actively Police it
The initial act of registering your trademark is an essential part of starting your business. Through the process, you determine that you are not currently infringing on another business, and you also set the priority date for your specific mark, so that a competitor does not have legal right to use your trademark in the future.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that a competitor won’t try to use a similar mark. In order to maintain your trademark and protect your brand, you must actively identify and take action against those trying to infringe upon your mark.
It is important to know your rights as a trademark owner. From cyber squatters to counterfeiters, you have the right to take legal action that businesses without trademarks lack. It can be difficult, however, to understand what constitutes trademark infringement, and to determine the best course of action when potential infringement is identified.
Consult a trademark attorney to learn more about your rights and the action you should take against infringement on your trademark.
Consider Registering Internationally
If your business hasn’t gone international yet, it likely will soon. With the rapid growth of e-commerce and online businesses, even small, regional retailers can quickly scale globally with the click of a button. While your federal trademark protects you in the United States, you may have little protection from infringement or counterfeiters internationally.
Fortunately, the process to register your trademark internationally is easier than you may realize, especially once you’ve registered in the United States.
The Madrid Protocol is an international system that has simplified the process to register your trademark in many countries around the world. You can now fill out a single application as a means to register a trademark in over 90 countries. Each country then decides whether or not to approve the trademark registration individually.
Speak with an experienced trademark attorney to decide which countries outside the United States might be important to consider trademark protection in for your business.
Statistics show that nearly two-thirds of all new business owners work more than 40 hours a week. You’ve invested your time, your money, and your energy seeing your dream come to fruition. If you haven’t yet started the process to federally register your trademark, it may not be too late!
Choose a strong mark, and work with an experienced trademark attorney to register your trademark. Be sure to know your rights as a trademark owner, and actively police it. Protecting your brand, your investment, and your business’s reputation is an essential part of your future success.