Non-physical company assets such as trademarks are sometimes deserted in favor of essential day-to-day business operations. However, your trademark or brand can be one of your company’s most valuable assets (think of Apple, Costa Coffee, and Boots), so maximizing the value of brand names is essential, particularly for small businesses.
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To maximize trademark resources and avoid the common pitfall, a company must align its trademark and brand strategy. Here are some tips that can help you get a good trademark.
1. Analyze the competitive edge
Make sure the market isn’t crowded with similar names or designs and that your use of a trademark won’t violate others’ rights. The lesser similar marks in your industry, the easier it will be to protect the rights of your trademarks.
Evaluate your target market’s current competitive edge, whether local, global, nationwide, or statewide. Consider whether there are some businesses using names or designs that are similar to yours. Just because you have never come across anyone using your name locally, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone outside your country doing so already. While that may not be an issue when you are just starting, you will likely come across their radar as you grow and expand, which could lead to serious problems.
Fortunately, it’s easy to do online searches to see whether any immediate red flags will appear. A trademark attorney can conduct a more detailed investigation and give opinions on whether your suggested trademark is available for use. There are also companies that offer trademark services, including the most extensive trademark clearance searches, depending on your needs and budget.
2. Conduct a detailed search
Don’t just visit the United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and file an application. That can easily lead to confusion or decline from the USPTO for trying to register a mark that is too similar to someone else’s. In addition, consumers will be confused regarding the origin or source of your product or service. Therefore, you need to do detailed research on your own or hire a professional who can uncover common state registrations, the law uses, or the business name that your trade could be confused with. If you plan to trade globally, you need to search internationally.
3. Protect your trademark
Although it’s limited, you can register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to secure exclusive rights in your brand, subject to any pre-existing common law. Remember, a USPTO trademark registration refers to the date the application was filed. Therefore, the sooner you file for registration, the earlier your preferred date will prevent your competitors from adopting the same trademarks. To secure your trademark earlier, you can file a bona fide intent to use a registration application as soon as you develop a goal for your new name or logo in commerce.
Besides the exclusive ownership benefits, trademark registration also helps put potential competitors on notice of your claim to rights. Note that not everyone does trademark clearance research, and sometimes all they do is run some quick searches in the USPTO database. Provided your trademark appears in the results, you are much less likely to encounter problems that should be highly avoided.
4. Use your trademarks consistently
You acquire trademark rights when you essentially start selling your goods or services using the trademark(s). These rights only renew if you are actively using trademarks. That means if you start doing business today as “Rhino Design” and change your name to “Panda Design” three years from now, you are essentially relinquishing the previous three years of trademark rights.
The same applies to logos. While slight modifications might not affect your rights, significant changes in the design or overall impression of your logo may also lead to a loss of rights. That’s why it’s always important to be consistent when using trademarks.
Putting in the time and effort to develop something you love today can pay much in the future. If you are planning to change your identity or switch gears completely, ensure you know how that will affect your current rights so that you don’t lose them unintentionally.
5. Don’t underestimate domain names
You want to ensure you have a domain name that fits your mark. Remember, the internet is more important than ever when reaching potential customers and marketing your business.
If you plan to have a website or be on social media, you must ensure that your domain names fit your trademark. It might not be the same, but there should be some fit with your trademark in your domain name. The same should apply to any social media channels you will use.
Your domains should link to your trademark since that is your brand, which is how customers will know who you are. Even if you don’t plan to use social media for some reason, still choose a trademark that aligns with your business. You can consult an experienced trademark lawyer to help you determine what to look for beyond the trademark itself.
6. Consider licensing and acquisition
If your desired trademark is already being used by someone else offering the same product or service, seek to acquire the right to the trademark through a transfer agreement or license. However, consider seeking cancellation of the registration if USPTO trademark enrollment hinders you, but the trademark doesn’t seem actually to be in use. This will help you continue with your chosen mark.
7. Actively manage your business growth
Make sure your trademark protection keeps pace with your growing and evolving business. Help ensure that your trademark portfolio offers you enough coverage for your short- and long-term growth as you add new products, services, or markets. Some marks might need to be extended in recent administrations, but others may no longer be relevant and should be sunset.
Trademarks are valuable business tools, so don’t underutilize them. Apply these tips as you select your mark and prepare for the examination process. If you know how to deliver your best products or services to your clients, you will be ahead of the game regarding legal protection for your brand and perhaps even your basic brand messaging.