Trademark 101: Protecting Your Brand

Whether your company is in its infancy formation stages or already has comprehensive branding, protecting its name and image is essential for growth and protection.  Registering a trademark for your brand with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) gives you the exclusive right to use your business name nationwide in connection with the goods or services you offer. If you don’t register your name or logo with the USPTO, you only have common law trademark protection, which means that you may only enforce your brand in your immediate geographic area.

This may work for small local business, but in the digital age and Internet-based business with nationwide scope, it isn’t a sufficient answer for most.

Why you should register

By registering your brand’s name, logo, or both, you gain a valuable business asset. Some of the benefits of USPTO registry include:

· Nationwide trademark protection.

· Public record of your ownership and the date you began using the trademark.

· Potential protection from would-be infringers by having registration with USPTO.

· Ability to legally protect and enforce your brand’s trademark by sending cease and desists or file a lawsuit in federal court.

· Right to use the registered trademark symbol ® next to your branding.

· Registration with the USPTO may allow you to register your trademark in other countries.

It is best to consult with an attorney before creating your company to ensure your new brand does not infringe on any existing registered marks. However, it is especially important to consult an attorney before filing for your trademark as it can be a complex process, and it is not recommended to use an automated service or try to do it yourself.

Having a trademark attorney will help you avoid undue delays, registration errors, unnecessary rejections and added expenses. The up-front cost is minimal compared to the potential hassle to have to re-file to fix errors, enforce and protect your branding against infringers or conversely, face a brand who is trying to enforce its trademark against you.

Meaningless battle

Take for instance, we found out the costly way of resolving trademark disputes for one of the health tech companies that I helped co-found. When we first started the company, our team had decided to forego the expense of conducting a trademark search and application, given that we were one of the first businesses offering our services in South Texas (and that we were cheap).

However, after three years into our operations and spending lots of time and advertising expenses in developing our brand, we found out that another competitor was moving into our markets (directly across the street, to be exact). Shortly thereafter, we received a cease and desist letter from their attorneys demanding that we immediately stop using our brand and change our name and marketing materials simply because our names shared a common word.

Even though their suit had no merit, we still ended up having to spend an inordinate amount of attorneys’ fees to defend ourselves. Ultimately, we ended up settling the suit (which means nobody won) and finally agreed to change our name for a price.

Nevertheless, for a simple issue that could have been easily and cheaply resolved at the outset, neither side gained anything, yet we still lost a lot of time, effort and goodwill that we had arduously built in the community, all of which could have been better spent building the business rather than wasted on a meaningless battle.

 

Dallas Cook and Aaron Woo| McCullough Sudan, PLLC

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