You can picture it: the bright red background, across which “Coca-Cola” is written in its iconic curling white script. Instant identification. Your brain associates the trademark with the brand.
A trademark is a simple concept—a symbol and/or word(s) that is a protected embodiment of your brand and a crucial piece of your company’s identity. It is reproduced on everything from business cards to letterheads to vehicle wraps to packaging. You will invest time and money into growing and promoting your business. Registering your trademark will help you protect your company’s single most identifying feature.
It isn’t only the name of a business that can attract a trademark dispute. A logo, slogan, color, and even scent can infringe on a registered company’s trademark protections. While a federal registration is not required, a trademark provides you with federal acknowledgment that your brand belongs to you. A private practice attorney who has experience in trademark law can help you navigate the trademark registration process.
An attorney will start by performing a trademark search for resemblances to your trademark that could confuse already-registered brand identities or create future conflicts. Your attorney will also guide you toward the best likelihood of trademark approval, omitting from consideration material that is merely descriptive, geographically descriptive, or deceptively misdescriptive. Your attorney will also respond to any objections levied by third parties, and ensure all required documents are filed on schedule.
The type of protection you choose will depend on the scope, nature, and geographic reach of your business. An attorney can help you register for state or national trademark protection, and even trademark protection overseas. The growth of the Internet and the rise of e-commerce has enabled many businesses to expand their reach and to connect with potential clients in increasingly faraway places. If you sell a product or service that crosses state lines, your trademark can travel farther than you might guess. In order to protect your brand outside of your local area, you should register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Your list of clients might not span from coast to coast, but your competitor’s might. Even a locally owned business with no plans for geographical expansion could face the threat of identity loss if a competing business with a trademark protected presence finds its way to your locale. There are thousands of trademark infringement cases making their way through the courts, challenging and changing existing trademark laws, all of them vying to make sense of an increasingly complex set of rules.
The trademark application process is lengthy, with a time-sensitive application and renewal process that can require changes to be submitted or refusals to be overcome. In addition to registration considerations, your attorney can help you ensure that you have not crossed the line with respect to others’ trademarks. Businesses found responsible for violating trademark laws can be subject to fines, fees, penalties, loss of profits, and loss of merchandise.
Before launching a new brand or product name, it is always advisable to conduct proper searches to make sure you aren’t spending money on a brand that infringes on someone else’s existing trademark rights.