With the new year upon us, businesses across the country are discussing ways to set themselves apart from the competition this year. A simple way to protect your brand and set yourself apart is to ensure that your business’s intellectual property needs are airtight. One way is to ensure that your brand is protected by competitors encroaching on your space. Specifically, trademark law prevents consumer confusion by preventing others in the same space from using a confusingly similar mark to your brand. Your brand is the core of your business—protect it.

Below are five helpful tips to ensure your brand remains yours.

Be Fanciful. Choose a Strong Trademark.

Whether you are a new business or expanding into a new business area, you should consider the trademark implications. Specifically, the strength of a trademark is a sliding scale. On one end, you have generic marks that simply describe the goods and/or services you provide. Accordingly, generic marks do not provide any trademark protection at all.

For example, if you are selling books, a generic trademark would be BOOK STORE. Such a mark is unprotectable because it is “generic” for your bookstore services.

On the other end, you have marks that are fanciful or arbitrary. These marks are made-up terms or have an ordinary meaning that is different from the goods and/or services you provide. As a result, these marks have the strongest level of trademark protection.

Think, for example, NIKE for shoes and APPLE for electronics. Both marks are afforded a high level of trademark protection.

Ensuring that your trademark receives a strong level of trademark protection is critical to preventing others from encroaching into your space with a confusingly similar name. By selecting a fanciful or arbitrary mark from the beginning, you are setting your business up for success out of the gate.

Once you have decided on a brand name, you should always conduct a trademark clearance search, regardless of whether you file a trademark application. By conducting a clearance search, you can ensure that you have the right to use the mark you choose.

Finding out down the road that you do not have the rights you thought you did to a trademark can be detrimental to a new business. In fact, it may be years before you find out that another business has been using a similar trademark to yours. If this occurs, you may be forced to spend thousands of dollars on rebranding and re-educating the public about your brand.

Determine the Appropriate Classes of Goods and Services For Your Business Needs.

If you are thinking of filing a trademark application, it is important to balance the costs. Specifically, the costs of adding an additional class of goods to an application against the benefit of registration. In fact, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) just increased the government fee per class to file an application to $350. With the increase in cost, filing a trademark application with many classes for ancillary products may not be the best use of financial resources.

For example, if your main business is selling books, but you also sell stickers with your brand on them, you have the option to file in two classes. One class for the bookstore services and the other class for the stickers. However, this increases the filing fees for your application by having to pay two government fees for the two classes. Unless the sticker business is wildly successful, it may make more sense from a business standpoint to file for the bookstore class of services and use the remaining funds for other services, such as trademark monitoring.  

Monitor the Market and Protect Your Brand.

Once you have a registered trademark covering your goods and services, it is important to monitor the marketplace. Having a registered mark does no good as a paperweight. At the end of the day, you are responsible for enforcing your hard-earned trademark rights against potential infringers. In fact, not enforcing your marks can harm your brand. Specifically, your trademark’s valve can be diluted, and brand reputation with consumers can be harmed.

There are several ways to monitor a trademark. As a business owner, you can set up Google alerts or perform routine searches of competitors’ websites. However, other services, such as a trademark monitor service, can help you handle more complex monitoring. Information about trademark monitoring services to monitor new trademark filings of competitors around the world can be found here.

Takeaway

Overall, it is important to protect your intellectual property early and often. By starting to think about the process early on, you can stay ahead of the game and save money down the road. Putting in the effort to analyze, protect, and enforce your brand in the short term is a surefire way to ensure your business’s long-term success.