Imagine owning your business for 11 years, and suddenly your clients start asking you about this other company they see online that has a similar name as yours. Your client found this company online searching for you, and was confused because they had a similar logo. To make matters even worse, they offer the exact same services as you. They are a different individual in a different state. Does this matter? Does this affect your business?
The simple answer is yes.
When you get a referral and people don't have your website link, they google you. This other company could rank in their search, even if your website has better SEO. That lead could reach out to the wrong company. What if this other company has done something that could in turn harm your brand's image? Either way, this isn't good for your company's reputation.
What steps do you take next? When should you trademark?
It is especially vital to consider trademarking your brand if you plan to expand or franchise your business, or if there is a direct threat to your brand from another company. If your company is growing or showing promise of growing in the near future, it's time to trademark to protect your brand. If you notice a surge in your industry or lots of new businesses in your industry popping up, it's time to trademark.
Before you contact an attorney, do some simple research. Look up the business in their state's Secretary of State website. Search the states surrounding the state the business is located. Don't forget to search your state as well, just to be thorough. If you see their business name listed, check the date. Did you get your name before them?
When did you get your name/business created? Find out.
When did you buy your website domain? Look it up.
When did you create your logo? Ask your designer.
When did you start using your business cards? Look for the receipt from when you paid to print them.
If you come back with valid documentation and feel like you have grounds to ownership of the name and/or logo, then contact an attorney that specializes in trademarking.
When you choose to trademark your brand, you officially have legal ownership of that name, logo, wordmark, and symbol. If there is another business using your property, once your trademark is approved and you get the official documentation, you legally have the right to require that the other party stops using that property. This is when your attorney can write and execute a Trademark Cease and Desist letter to notify the other party that they have used your trademarked content, and that use must be discontinued. The infringing trademark does not always have to be identical to yours, sometimes the level of similarity is enough to be justified in sending a Cease and Desist letter. Hiring an attorney will help clear up all grey areas in this process. Make sure you hire someone who knows what they are doing.
Here are some professionals we recommend to help you with this process:
Karen S. Boardman – Sellers, Ayers
Karen Boardman | TM Lawyer (@boardmantrademarklaw)
Trademarking isn't for everyone and it isn't always necessary. It can be a long process and expensive, so it is important to understand why and when to take the leap.