Let’s start with the basics: Have you ever thought about trademarking your business? Perhaps you simply thought that your small business isn’t quite the size to warrant such a thing.
However, if you truly believe in your business and what makes you unique within your industry then there’s likely a potential competitor out there ready to steal your thunder. Let’s face it, you have likely spent countless hours designing your products, logo, and the overall identity of your business. Therefore, you don't want someone to come along and simply take all this hard work out from under you.
If you don't have a trademark, your business is not fully protected. Why else would all the major brands trademark their businesses? In order to deter those wily copycats, of course. In fact, any reputable business coach will advise securing a trademark as soon as you establish your business.
But what is a trademark and how can it protect your business?
In this article, we'll discuss the importance of trademarks to small businesses and why they should be a priority. Keep in mind that we are not giving legal advice, but rather the business case and general information. We always strongly recommend that you contact a specialized business attorney to navigate trademarks for your business.
What Is a Trademark?
In a nutshell, a trademark is a form of intellectual property protection. It allows you to protect your business’ names, slogans, and logo. Essentially, it’s all the things that define who you are as a business to the world.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. - United States Patent and Trademark Office
People often confuse it with copyright, which is similar. However, you cannot copyright a word or phrase. Copyright is generally used for literature and songs, etc. As a simple example, Harry Potter is copyrighted to prevent someone from writing a new book with the exact same characters.
Once you have officially secured a trademark, it establishes a claim to ownership for the business. If you discover another business is using your trademarked property, you may have legal standing against the potential offender.
How Do We Trademark Our Intellectual Property?
First and foremost, we strongly recommend you find an attorney to represent your business while going through this process.
One of the reasons for that recommendation is based on the tricky nature of how “common law” works with respect to trademarks in the U.S. Technically speaking, you do not need to officially register for a trademark. You can simply express your claim on the IP by attaching a “TM” with the logo, slogan, etc.
But if you go that route, know that if you encounter a business who had copied you, or maybe even just happened to come up with the same idea innocently, then proving your claim becomes very difficult indeed.
When you officially register and receive approval, then you have an established time and record of your property.
Confusingly, if you register with the USPTO, instead of using TM, you would begin to use the ® symbol, which is almost exclusively associated with copyrights, colloquially.
How Do Trademarks Protect Your Business?
As we mentioned before, a trademark is a form of protection. If you have an established business but haven't secured trademarks, your business is left exposed. Another business could actually replicate your logo and phrases.
Worse still, if they managed to obtain the trademarks before you, you could be forced to stop using them. It would all depend on who established a claim to the IP first, and can prove it. If they take your idea and then establish a claim before you, then you could potentially have a serious problem on your hands.