Aside from having a product or service that people want, one of the most important parts of your business is its brand. In short, a brand is the look and feel of your company. It includes your business’ name, logo, product name(s), slogan, etc. It’s how your customers know you and their first impression when they visit your website. A good brand can immediately give your customer a sense of trust and confidence, which will, in turn, convert to sales.
Take a moment to consider some of the biggest brands you know – Coca Cola, Nike, Apple, Google, Amazon.
There are few places in the world that are not familiar with these brands, and whether or not they have the best quality within their respective industries, there is a sense of trust in these brands that, as a consumer, gives you a level of comfort when you choose to purchase their goods.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be one of the most recognized brands in the world to positively benefit from solid branding. In fact, it can be even more important as a small business to ensure that your business’ brand conveys credibility and confidence. Regardless of whether your business is a multimillion dollar business or a brand new startup, one thing is for certain: you’ll want to prioritize protecting your brand with a registered trademark to ensure that your hard work and creativity are recognized and remain yours and yours alone.
Things to consider when contemplating brand assets
Some people know exactly what they want to name their business, but the majority of us will ponder business names for days, if not weeks, trying to find the right name that “clicks.” As you explore different options, there are a few things you want to consider:
- What other businesses out there have the same name?
- Can you secure a relevant domain name?
- Can you secure your desired name on social media? What other social media accounts (if any) are out there already that might create confusion with your business name?
- Ideally, you will want to attain the #1 spot on Google search through SEO. What comes up now when you Google your business’s name? Is it likely that you can beat out the #1 spot?
If the name you want is already taken, sadly, it may be best to go back to the drawing board so that you do not infringe on someone else’s brand. It is also important that your customers do not get confused when they’re conducting their searches.
How to protect your brand
Once you finally nail down a business name, you will want to secure the web domain, any similar domains, and all social accounts. You will also want to register your business name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), so that no other individual or company can take your business’s brand identity.
Social Media profiles to consider:
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a symbol (logo), word, phrase or design that is developed to represent a company or a product. A registered trademark is legally protected and any attempt by another party to infringe upon your trademark can be litigated.
When to register a trademark
As soon as you choose a name and start building your brand assets, such as logos, slogans, etc. you will want to start looking into the registration process. You will put a lot of work into your assets and as you start to acquire customers, they will gain a sense of trust and familiarity associated with your brand. If your brand is not protected, you may have to start from scratch if the trademarks are contested, which can be a huge distraction – especially when your focus should be on sales.
How to obtain a registered trademark
All trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. For about $275, you will be able to apply with USPTO to own exclusive rights to your trademark. The USPTO website offers basic search tools to see if any other businesses are operating under your proposed name. If you do not do a search and blindly submit your trademark to the USPTO and your desired trademark already in use, your application will be rejected and you will lose that fee, so make sure you do your research beforehand.
Once your application is approved, you will be protected both at the state and federal levels. The application will not take you more than a couple of hours to complete, but the entire approval process can take up to six months.
Please keep in mind that registered trademarks are only good for up to ten years. You should receive sufficient notice of this from the USPTO, but it’s never a bad idea to keep track of it on your own as well.
Enforcing your Trademark
If you stumble upon a possible infringement on your trademark, it is your decision as to whether or not you choose to contest their use. For starters, you should assess the threat to your business. Enforcing your trademark requires the assistance of a lawyer, which equals time and money. If the violator is a random Facebook page with zero followers or content, it may be enough to send a cease and desist letter on your own and leave it at that. However, if you find another business taking your business idea, name, logo and selling it as their own to customers, that may pose a more serious threat that requires further investigation, assessment and counsel.
Even the most well-known companies in the world can fall victim to trademark infringement if they do not follow the proper steps to protecting their business from day one, resulting in lengthy litigation and thousands (sometimes millions!) of dollars in fees.
The cost of registering your assets (and staying up on the renewals) is very minimal compared to the damage that infringement can cause. Put in the extra time and money and invest in this simple protection for your business.