How to Protect Your Business TrademarkMost business owners realize that the marketing slogans, logos, and other trademarks and service marks used by their company are extremely valuable commodities. The amount of time, effort, and dollars that go into establishing these things can add up quickly and pay off huge with a brand that reaches large amounts of valuable customers.
But just like any other asset, these things need to be actively protected in order to keep that money from going to waste.
What Is a Trademark?
First, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re protecting.
There is sometimes confusion about to the definition of a trademark. A trademark is not the name of a business, but something the business uses to brand a particular good or service. While the business name is protected at the state level when it is registered, protecting a trademark is a far more involved process. Since trademarks (which can include logos, symbols, phrases, and images) are considered to be property, the owner of the mark has the right to prevent others from using it.
So, how do you do that?
Make it official. One of the best ways to make it clear who owns your trademark is to register it officially with the government. To start, this trademark must be completely unique. Additionally, its use cannot hurt the value of an already existing trademark in any way. If these things apply to your material, you can apply to have it trademarked with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This process is sometimes long (up to six months) and complicated, but once your trademark is officially registered with the federal government, it is yours for life. This makes it an extremely valuable asset to you and your business.
Use it or lose it. The trademark is yours for life… but only if you’re using it. Just registering it isn’t enough – it needs to be in prominent places, like your website, business sign, and print marketing materials. You also need to renew your registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office every 5 to 10 years. Not using the trademark for a period of time? You may be able to claim an “excusable nonuse of the mark” and still maintain it; otherwise you will have to file a whole new application.
Stay alert. Just because you own the trademark doesn’t mean that someone won’t attempt to trademark something similar. To prevent this from happening, you can conduct a trademark watch, which will flag any trademark applications that may conflict with yours. This allows you to take steps immediately to ensure that the application is denied – before the other company starts to use it, potentially causing damage to your brand.
Warn people. One simple way to deter people from using your trademark is to let them know that you intend to fight any infringement on your rights. Does that mean including a threatening message every time you use it? No way! That’s tacky and can negatively impact the brand you’re trying to protect. Instead, simple identify the trademark with either a ™ or ® when you use it. The ™ symbol should be used when you have a trademark but the registration process hasn’t been completed. The registered symbol (®) is used after the process is complete. These symbols aren’t required, but they are a subtle way to let people know that you’re serious about protecting your trademark, since you’ve taken (or are taking) steps to legally register it.
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