If you want to really own your brand, protect your brand from brand genericide, and secure your business through the value of the intellectual property rights to your brand, then it’s time to look into establishing your brand trademark.
A trademark is a unique identifier of a product or service. A trademark can be a distinctive word or name (Google), phrase (Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!), symbol (the golden arches logo), design (Coke bottle), device (Tony the Tiger), or any combination thereof.
Put simply: a trademark is established to preserve and build brand value. Your trademark distinguishes and identifies your brand as a unique source of goods.
Sounds important to your brand integrity, right? Well, it is!
Trademark Symbols: The Rundown
™ You probably see this trademark symbol all over the place. ™ is used as a common law trademark identifier, meaning that the business is establishing a unique word/phrase/symbol/etc trademark and publicly telling the world not to use that particular trademark, as it is taken.
® The ® symbol may only be used to identify a trademark that has been applied for and approved for use by the United States government.
Should I Register My Trademark?
So why spend the time and money registering your trademark? In short, more legal protection. Many legal professionals will tell you that you must register your trademark to protect your business. However, your continuous usage of your unregistered trademark does offer you many of the benefits without the hassle or cost.
However, this option is more risky. If a lawsuit is presented, your common law trademark might only hold local rights, or perhaps the entity suing you has been using your trademark longer and it’s federally registered. There’s no getting out of that situation with an intact brand. And if you’re out a brand, you could very well be out of business as you know it!
The Two-Minute Trademark
Don’t have any trademarks on your brand and/or brand components? Don’t panic! It’s likely you’re not too late—but now’s the time to start thinking about establishing a trademark. There are actions you can take RIGHT NOW to secure your trademark.
- Look It Up. Look up your brand’s name/word/phrase that you would like to trademark in the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) here. If your searches yield zero results, you’re good to go!
- Slap A ™ On It. Seeing as you’re not required by law to register your trademark with the federal government, you might as well get a jump start on protecting your trademark by adding that tiny ™ to your branding.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Just because your TESS search yields zero results doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Because the ™ symbol may be used by anyone, there may already be a company similar to yours using what you thought was your unique trademark. Yet another reason to register your trademark.
It’s ok— most trademark registrations are relatively painless. This Wall Street Journal article suggests most trademark registrations take only 90 minutes and you don’t even need a lawyer. (Although the approval process takes about six months.)
To ensure your success, review the most common reasons for refusing registration here. To become more familiar with the process, start with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and their handy trademark FAQ.
When it comes to trademarks, I say better safe than sorry. Protecting the integrity of your brand is important! After all, what is your business without your brand?
To Trademark, or Not To Trademark? What do you think? Leave a comment below!