You’ve got your business name and logo down. Shoot, you’ve probably even started using a catchy slogan that’s building some real brand awareness. You’re out here making MOVES.
BUT—and yes, there has to be a “but,” as a business lawyer, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t play devil’s advocate and come through with the “buts”—let me ask you an uncomfortable question.
How well is your secret sauce protected? Have you trademarked that logo? That slogan? Those words? How much energy have you put behind protecting all these moves you’ve been making?
If you haven’t done much, then I’ll be honest: you’re putting your business (and all that hard work) at risk from some sauce-stealing thieves (aka idea thieves). But if you haven’t trademarked your sauce yet, don’t feel too bad. Trademarking isn’t something most new entrepreneurs are familiar with; most don’t know what it means, if they need one, or the process it takes to file one.
If that sounds like you, then let’s get you up to speed. By the time you finish reading this blog, I promise you, you won’t be making the same mistakes as most new entrepreneurs.
Class is in session! And we’re starting with the trademark basics. What is a trademark?
A registered trademark is a form of intellectual property. A trademark can be a general word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods (or services) of one party from another.
Trademarks can be:
While there are many different types of trademark categories, depending on the type of trademark you’re looking to file, your trademark will typically fall into one of two: a wordmark or a design mark.
Wordmarks are exactly what they state. In a wordmark, there are no graphics and no designs. It’s simply the word in whatever font you may choose.
Here are some examples of a wordmark used in big-name brands:
Design marks or descriptive marks, on the other hand, are stylized. It can be stylized colors or graphics. No matter what it is, its distinctiveness is key in setting it apart.
Here are some examples of a design mark used in big-name brands:
Now, because there are 45 different classes of protection when it comes to trademarks, understanding the rules around trademarks can get kind of messy. So let’s clear up what a trademark is not.
Trademarks are not:
Patents are protections from scientific methods, processes, or systems.
Copyright is a federal protection tool afforded to your ideas or works that are affixed to a permanent medium, such as photographs, books, email funnels, etc.
While you can trademark your brand name, registering your LLC does not mean you have a trademark. Until you file a trademark for a specific name or word, ANYONE can use it. There can be a Jay-Z incorporated in Florida, and a Jay-Z incorporated out in Georgia doing completely different things. So I repeat: an LLC does not mean you have trademark protection.
So don’t be tricked into thinking you have protection when you don’t. Unless you’ve filed for trademark registration and received that letter from USPTO, your brand is not protected.
If you don’t know, now you know!
Alright, you’re up to speed now. You know what a trademark is and what it isn’t. But let’s take a moment to cover why you may need one.
Trademarking your business not only protects your business but also sets the foundation to help your business go further. For example, suppose you’re Jay-Z Incorporated and intend to take your business to a national level. In that case, you can’t afford to play small and have a bunch of other people in the streets using your business name.
When you file a trademark application with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), you’re filing for exclusive rights and removing the likelihood of confusion. No other business, no matter the state, can use what you’ve trademarked. This makes it easier for customers to find you because they’re not getting distracted by other businesses with the exact same name. Additionally, that registered mark you’ll be able to use will also build trust within your customers/audience that they’re dealing with the real deal.
That’s what trademarking does for your audience. For you, the stakes are even higher.
Trademarking things that distinguish your business from others can protect you from idea thieves. For example, if your name, product, or logo is currently unprotected, that’s not stopping anyone from stealing your ideas and filing for trademark rights RIGHT NOW. And because they’d be the first to do it, they technically wouldn’t be in the wrong. If anything, you may even be liable for trademark infringement as you’re not officially the trademark owner. That means all that time, energy, and hard work you’ve put in would go down the drain. And I know you’re not here for that because neither am I.
I know I’ve got you fired up; honestly, I’m proud of myself! Protecting small business owners from idea thieves is what I love to do. So if this post makes you take the right steps toward protecting your sauce, I’ve done my job.
But here’s the thing. We haven’t even finished covering everything in Trademark 101. There’s still some more I’d like you to know because I know there’s a lot of wrong information out there that may have you still thinking you don’t need a trademark.
Like when you got some shady legal advice telling you your LLC was a trademark. I’m sure you were ready to fight me when I busted that myth.
But because no one likes to read legal essays, let’s finish what we started a different way. Click here to watch my free tutorial on all things Trademark. You’ll get a crash course in trademarking from a trademark attorney that’ll help you gain clarity on federal trademark registration, the application process, filing fees, and more!