trademarkingAnyone who has been involved in the launch of a startup will tell you that it requires dedication, hard work, time, and effort. Setting up your own distinct business identity is probably the most important aspect of getting your business off the ground. Without this fundamental key to success, it would be nearly impossible to attract customers. The word “branding” gets thrown around a lot in the design and marketing industry, but building your brand truly is one of the most important aspects of growing your business and there is a lot more to it than just design. Building a brand means building a solid reputation and gaining a foothold with an audience that puts you ahead of the competition.

When it comes to building a brand, it’s important to make sure that all of the time, hard work and money spent actually work in unison to build a positive brand image, because there’s no shortage of ways to ruin one. One of the biggest hurdles with startups is failure to complete the necessary research when choosing brand name and applying for trade mark usage on the front side. Even worse, not going through the proper measures to make sure that you’re not infringing on someone else’s trademark. This could put your business in a perilous position of losing the momentum that you’ve worked so hard to build as well as costing thousands or tens of thousands in rebranding costs. No one wants that, so it’s always a good idea to “cover your assets” so-to-speak.

What Is a Trademark?

Failure to establish a trademark is a common mistake for many small businesses. This is an easy mistake to make when you’re focusing on everything it takes to launch a new business or product. Often times, small business owners simply look at trademarking as a secondary concern. It is prudent for everyone to fully understand the value of a trademark and why you should have one.

Basically, a trademark is any type of symbol that is unique to your business entity. It could also be a word, name, or even a device that is used to identify your product or service that is unique from any other business. This trademark can only be used by the business that has registered it and it protects them from any type of misuse or misrepresentation that may be made by any competitors and at the same time, gives you a high level of brand recognition.

Why You Should Trademark

Many people hesitate to register a trademark because they feel it is an unnecessary expense. Since they are not a major conglomerate that commands the lion’s share of the market, it is a cost they feel they could go without. However, many would be surprised to learn that getting a trademark is not exceptionally expensive. They fail to see that establishing a trademark should come before they have cornered the market in their particular industry. Your trademark is a symbol of who you are now and everything you’re trying to be. The US Government recognizes trademarks based on a “first come, first served” basis. That means that whoever registers the trademark first is considered the legal owner of it.

That means that you could work hard to establish brand recognition and your competitor can come along at any time and claim it. If they get to register it first, all of the work you’ve put into your branding will be lost. The credit will go to your competition. It is extremely important for you to register your trademark when you begin your business and start building up your brand recognition. This way, no one will be able to come in later and steal your hard work.

Your Trademark Search

Even before you’re ready to register your trademark, it is advisable that you do what is called a trademark search to make sure no one else has legal claim to your idea already. It’s not uncommon for great names to be taken. In fact, recently one of my clients was contacted with a cease and desist notice because their brand name was infringing on a competitors trademark. They had been operating under the assumption that their brand name was safe to use. Unfortunately, a competitor had portions of their name trademarked in that particular industry and this cost them a lot of money in rebranding with a new name as well as a years worth of positive brand recognition in the retail environment. This is definitely one lesson that no one wants to learn the hard way.

Here are a number of ways to avoid trademark conflicts by searching trademarks:

  1. You can search all registered trademarks for free at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If the mark you’re considering has a unique design element, you need to search design codes, which will require you to use their Design Code Manual.
  2. You can also visit the Trademark Public Search Library where you can get personal assistance in your search if you visit during regular business hours.

  3. In your local community there should also be a Patent and Trademark Depository Library near you.

  4. For a less detailed search you can visit a number of Internet sites that will give you a pretty good idea if your trademark idea is unique enough to pursue your own registration.

  5. Finally, you can work with an intellectual property attorney who specializes in patents and trademarks. I highly recommend this route, but please make sure to do a little checking around with other local businesses to get their recommendations on who to use.

There is no understating the importance of registering your business’ trademark as soon as possible. Think about it, your trademark will be a visible and lasting statement that is unique for your business. The more you get your company to stand out, the more essential it is to protect everything you’ve worked so hard to build. Your brand message is the foundation that your business is built on; it should be worth protecting.

Have you had experience with trademarking products for the retail environment? If so, share what you’ve learned below in the comments section.

Are you a designer who has helped start-ups with trademarks or possibly you have questions about trademark issues? Likewise, post you comments or questions below.