When you own a business, one of the biggest concerns you may have is related to protecting your physical and intangible assets. In addition to real property and equipment, you will want to protect any intellectual property, including trademarks.
Intellectual property protection may be confusing since it includes many different distinctions, including copyrights, patents, trademarks, franchises, trade secrets, and other proprietary information exclusive to your business. This article provides information about trademarks as intellectual property and how trademarks apply to your business.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark can be a word, phrase, design, symbol, or combination of elements identifying your goods or services. The term ‘service mark’ is sometimes used for companies that provide services rather than goods.
Trademarks can be one of the most valuable assets for your business since a recognizable trademark can build a brand’s reputation within an industry. A trademark is distinct from competitors and allows customers to recognize your company easily. A reputable trademark is trusted by consumers by the trademark itself.
Trademarks serve several purposes, such as:
- Identifying the source of your goods or services.
- Providing legal protection for your brand.
- Helping you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.
A trademark allows you to build brand recognition, although only certain things can be trademarked. Items that can be trademarked include product names and nicknames, logos, sounds, business names, slogans, and color combinations or schemes. Marks that are already in use cannot be trademarked. You also cannot trademark generic descriptions, commonly used phrases or messages, or direct religious quotes and passages.
How can a Trademark Apply to My Business?
As you can see, having a trademark can be highly beneficial since it gives you a leg up over the competition. The more widely-recognized your trademark is, the more potential sales it can achieve. Therefore, it’s a good idea to register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office once you have it finalized. Before starting this process, you will want to verify that your trademark isn’t the same or very close to one used by another company. This scenario could put your company in hot water as you would infringe upon another company’s trademark protections.
Registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office does several things for your company. It can:
- Create a public record of your trademark ownership.
- Prevent others from using a trademark similar to yours.
- Give you legal protections as you can sue someone if they infringe upon your mark.
- Make it easier for you to register your trademark in other countries.
- Be used to top goods being imported that infringe on your trademark.
- Gives you the legal authority to use the registered trademark symbol.
Failing to register your trademark doesn’t automatically mean that you can’t use it. There is a difference between owning a trademark and registering a trademark. Registering a trademark provides broader protections for a company than using an unregistered one. You can establish rights as a trademark owner by using it, called common law rights. But those rights are often much more limited than a registered trademark would provide. For instance, they only apply to the geographic area where you provide your goods or services. If you want broader, nationwide rights, you must register it. Additionally, the trademark must stay in use and be prominently and consistently displayed on the goods or services.
A federal trademark registration provides a presumption of trademark validity. This term means that the trademark registration holder is deemed to have trademark rights in the registered mark for the registered goods or services without any additional proof. This means that if someone infringes upon your trademark, they are legally responsible for proving that your rights are invalid.
However, it’s also vital for trademark holders to understand that there are no regulatory agencies that monitor trademark violations. Therefore, it will be up to you to police and protect your trademark from infringement.
Trademark policing often includes two activities, stopping infringers from using your trademark and maintaining the proper and consistent use of the trademark. Stopping infringers requires monitoring the marketplace and taking legal action when you find someone using your trademark without authorization. And maintaining a proper and consistent trademark requires strong partnerships with anyone businesses that you allow to use your trademark.
Trademarks are a vital part of any company’s intellectual property. They can be used to build consumer confidence and loyalty. However, understanding the legal implications of registering a trademark can be difficult. To learn more about trademarks and how they apply to your business, contact Grellas Shah today!