The importance of trademarks for small and large businesses

Trademarks can provide both brand recognition and legal protection, when done correctly.

Trademarks are intended to help distinguish one brand from competitors. When done correctly, these marks can provide a strong marketing, leading to instant recognition that can translate to increased business. When done poorly, the process can lead to wasted time and money resulting in a trademark that is not well known and difficult to protect.

Entrepreneurs can help increase their odds of a successful trademark by finding the right mark and taking steps to protect it.

Trademark basics: Finding the right trademark.

The first step is finding the right trademark for your business. The legal term "trademark" can cover many things including words, phrases (such as taglines), symbols or designs.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) notes that entrepreneurs should take care when selecting their trademark as not every mark can be registered with the USPTO. Entrepreneurs should complete due diligence prior to moving forward with a trademark application. This can include a search of TESS, or the Trademark Electronic Search System. This can help to better ensure that the chosen mark is not already in use or too similar to other, competing brands.

Trademark basics: Protecting the chosen trademark.

Once a mark is chosen, it is wise to take steps to increase the ability to legally protect the trademark. This includes:

  • Uniqueness. Make sure that the chosen mark cannot be easily confused with another mark already registered with the USPTO. This federal agency will review an application and refuse registration if there is "likelihood of confusion" between the proposed mark and another pre-existing mark. However, marks that are similar or even identical may still be approved if they represent different products or services. Taking the time to complete the search noted above and adjust a proposed trademark as needed to ensure its uniqueness helps increase the likelihood of being able to successfully protect the mark in the future.
  • Strength. In addition to having a unique and easily recognizable trademark, it is also wise for entrepreneurs to consider the strength of the mark. Some marks are more easily protected than others. A "weak" mark is one that is difficult to defend. Marks are generally categorized in one of four ways: fanciful or arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive or generic. Fanciful or arbitrary marks are the strongest. Fanciful marks are invented words while arbitrary marks are words with a known meaning that has no connection to the product. Using the mark Apple for computers is an example, since apples generally have nothing to do with computers.

Entrepreneurs that take the time to find a unique and strong mark are better able to protect their trademark if it is infringed.

Trademark basics: The importance of legal counsel.

USPTO registers the marks. The trademark owner is responsible for enforcing any potential infringement issue that may arise. As a result, the USPTO states that "trademark attorneys can help you before, during and after the trademark application process." This includes assisting in the application process at the state, federal and even international levels as well as monitoring and enforcing trademark registrations after the mark is approved.

Keywords: business law