So you’ve started a business, come up with a logo, and snatched up a domain name. Time to start selling your product or service and watching the money roll in, right?
You wouldn’t build a beautiful home, decorate it meticulously, but skip putting locks on the doors — would you? Yet that’s exactly what many business owners do when they start their business. They put time and effort into building their brand, but don’t take the extra step to trademark their business.
Indeed, trademarking your business name entails a lot more than adding the ® symbol to your brand. In the words of Michael Rader, founder of .com brand name marketplace
What exactly does a trademark do?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is “any word, name [or] symbol used … to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider.” In other words, a trademark protects your business name, your tagline, and your company logo. You establish it as your own unique intellectual property that cannot be legally reproduced by anyone else. (It’s important to note, however, that trademark protections extend only within the geographic area where the business operates. So, if you’re based in the US, somebody in Australia could theoretically use the same business name.)
The most obvious benefit is that trademarks protect you from copycats. If you have a particularly clever tagline, you need to trademark it. Why? Because there’s no legal barrier for somebody to swoop in and use that tagline for their own business if you don’t. If it’s trademarked, you can take legal action against that person and chances are, it won’t end well for them.
To be specific, if a trademark infringement case is taken to court, the penalties for the violator can be up to three times the amount of lost profits from the victim! The risks really outweigh the benefits when it comes to trying to pass off as a trademarked brand or service.
On top of that, in an increasingly complicated digital age, trademarks help secure your brand on social media. You’ve probably seen it on Facebook or Twitter. You’re searching for one business, and end up on a page that has the same name, but nothing to do with the business you were looking for.
If your business is trademarked, other people can’t create pages on social media that would lead people away from your actual channel. Twitter, for instance, states that “using another’s trademark in a manner that may mislead or confuse others about your brand affiliation” likely constitutes a violation of their trademark policy. Accounts that are flagged as violating trademark policy will be swiftly terminated. And the owners can face legal troubles like those described above.
Protection from “cybersquatting”
Finally, trademarking prevents people from “cybersquatting.” What’s that? The act of creating a domain name that’s nearly identical to a trademark, with the intent of selling that domain name for a fee. For instance, imagine you have a trademarked business called “Trademarks Are Good” with the domain name trademarksaregood.com. It would be considered cybersquatting if somebody used the domain name trademarksaregoood.com. Note the extra ‘o’ — in order to siphon off some of your traffic.
This particular type of cybersquatting, which takes advantage of common typos, is called “typosquatting.” If your business is trademarked, you can collect damages from cybersquatters who created a domain name that’s very similar to your trademark.
How much do trademarks cost?
There are several factors that determine the cost of a trademark. These range from the category that your business falls into, to whether or not the trademark involves just words or an additional design component as well. Most trademarks fall within the $275 – $325 range (in US dollars), which is unlikely to break the bank for most business owners.
How long does the process take?
Here’s the bad news: trademarking is a highly bureaucratic process. Applications generally take around six months to be approved (or, if you’re not so lucky, disapproved). A good way to ensure that your trademark is predisposed for approval is to conduct a preliminary search on Trademarkia, a search engine that will show you if the name you’ve chosen (or a close variant) is currently under protection.
At this point, an astute reader might be asking: “Does this mean my business name, slogan, and logo will be vulnerable for half a year?” Not exactly. If you’ve ever wondered why there are two symbols to represent trademarks — ™ and ® — this is why.
Only when your trademark is officially approved (“registered”) by the USPTO can you legally use the registered trademark symbol ( ® ) and enjoy all the protections that come with it. Given that the process to get your trademark officially approved (“registered”) takes some time, however, the ™ symbol was created as a sort of placeholder trademark.
With the ™ symbol, you don’t get the same legal protections as with a registered trademark. However, it’s a way to alert others that you plan to file for a trademark or have a trademark pending. So, if somebody steals your name or logo, they’re going to have to bear some significant consequences a few months down the road.
Although ™ doesn’t guarantee you the same legal protections as ®, you’ll drastically lower your chance of being a victim of infringement.
Is it really worth it?
Ultimately, despite the fact that it can be a rather time-consuming process, trademarking is an important step in establishing your brand’s legitimacy. It gives you way more than the sought-after ® logo. It protects you from copycats, it secures your status on social media, and it’s a safeguard against cybersquatters.
It can also give you and your employees external validation about your brand, boosting confidence and morale. And to top it off, trademarking your brand is quite a bargain. As Michael Rader explained, your business name is an incredibly valuable asset — you should do everything in your power to keep it safe.