You worked hard to generate your business’s brand identity, and your effort paid off in the form of business success.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous business leaders will happily capitalize on your success and take advantage of your brand by copying critical elements, like your name, your logos, your graphics and more.
In doing so, these rival businesses can confuse your audience, damage your reputation, and certainly impede your business growth. Fortunately, you have recourse: trademark rights.
As a long time small business owner and business attorney, I’ve grown very familiar with the process of enforcing trademark rights and keeping other businesses away from your branding.
Whether you need legal recourse now, or just want to be prepared for the future, this article will teach you how to make the most of your legal trademark protections and enjoy your business success fully
What Are Your Trademark Rights?
If you’re looking to protect your brand, a registered trademark is the most crucial element to ensuring you have legal protection for you business name, goods and services.
While you become a trademark owner as soon as you use your brand name, logo, or slogan in commerce, you need to register your trademark if you want to prevent other businesses from offering similar services under the same name.
A registered trademark will:
- Make your business unique recognizable to clients and customers
- Ensure legal protection for your business and brand
- Prevent others from stealing your intellectual property
With a registered trademark, you can ensure that you are the only business with your name in your industry.
How to Protect Your Trademark Rights
Now that you know what your trademark rights are, let’s look at how you can protect them.
Register Your Trademark With Different Agencies
As soon as you decide upon your company name, logo and other visual elements of its brand, you need to register your trademark with appropriate agencies.
But where do you start?
- USPTO: Applying for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the bare minimum, as it guarantees legal protection of the trademarks you use to do business. Without trademark registration with the USPTO, your trademarks are lot legally enforceable in America.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: This agency will look for counterfeit marks and similar marks on imported goods, notifying you of any infringement on your rights.
- Any other regions: You might also register your trademarks in any other regions you expect to expand into, as U.S. trademark rights do not extend past national lines.
If you know that your business will operate internationally, you can file for international trademarks from the very beginning of your business. However, this process is expensive and complicated, so skip it unless similar companies in other countries could threaten your business success.
Regularly Check Trademark Databases
Once you’ve properly registered your trademark, you should get into the habit of monitoring your trademarks for signs of infringement.
How do you monitor your trademarks?
- Create a Watch Notice with the USPTO to identify potentially risky trademark applications.
- Regularly search the USPTO database for registrations of trademarks that are dangerously similar to yours.
- Create a Google Alert for your trademark to receive notice of any new webpages found containing your mark. This is helpful for catching trademark infringement that isn’t legally registered.
At the very least, keep a close eye on social media for signs of misuse of your trademarks.
Sign up for Trademark Policing
As a business leader, you likely don’t have much time to devote to scouring the web for signs of trademark infringement.
Fortunately, you can ensure proper monitoring of your trademark by utilizing a trademark policing service.
Third parties experienced with trademark law will regularly check trademark names, logos and more for counterfeits and similarities, so you can keep your marks safe and secure while you focus on running your business.
File Opposition Proceedings
It is much easier to prevent a trademark from registering than to fight a fully registered trademark that could damage your brand in the real world.
If and when you notice that another company is trying to file for a trademark that is dangerously similar to your own, you should act quickly to prevent the trademark from becoming registered.
In its official gazette, the USPTO publishes trademarks for review before they are registered, allowing other trademark holders to oppose marks that may infringe on their own trademark rights.
You can and should file opposition and cancellation proceedings against marks you deem to be too similar to your own to avoid confusion amongst your target audience.
Send Cease-and-Desist Letters
If you neglect to oppose a similar trademark before registration — or if a company counterfeits your marks heedless of trademark law — you can send a cease-and-desist (C&D) letter.
This letter notifies the receiving party of your awareness of their illegal activity and your intention to take legal action should they not stop utilizing your trademarks immediately.
How can a C&D protect your brand?
- In many cases, trademark infringers failed to perform due diligence on their marks before putting them to use, and fearing expensive and damaging litigation, they will immediately respect your wishes and alter their marks.
- However, there is some chance that the recipient of your C&D does not cease or desist, so you should be willing and capable of launching litigation to protect your trademark in this event.
Only you can keep your trademarks strong and safe. By taking the appropriate steps to thwart trademark infringement, you can enjoy an effective and successful brand into the future.
Registering your trademark provides peace of mind, helps you stand out in a crowded market, and ensures the safety of your intellectual property.
By following these steps, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done all you can to protect your brand, and focus on what really matters — running your business.
Now we’d like to hear from you; do you have any tips for businesses looking to protect their brands? Let us know in the comments below!