You finally broke through and came up with the perfect brand name. You’re ecstatic. It’s hot, it’s juicy and everybody loves it. In fact, it’s so hot that you might not be the only one who wants to use it. Catchy titles and unique names that resonate with ideal clients are invaluable. So what do you do to protect it?
You simply declare it to be a trademark. Turns out trademark rights are based on use—very important notion—, not registration, and your rights start accruing as soon as the trademark symbol is used in connection with a product or service. That means you can simply add the ™ symbol to your brand name, prior to official registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
You may ask what is a trademark and why should I care? Excellent question! In legally proper words, a trademark is an official notice to the public that you own your trademark, and that they cannot accrue rights if they start using it later on similar products or services. In every-day words, having the ™ symbol next to your brand name indicates to the public that you’re serious about your business, and that you claim the name as your property. You need it because a trademark governs your brand name. Since a brand name is the foundation of your business, or at least one of its key corner stones, it’s a critical piece to have in place. It allows you to increase your company’s perceived market value which helps you raise your rates.
Brand protection is serious business and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Did you know that the perceived brand value of big brand names can make up more than 50% of the market value of a public company and dominante entire industries? A brand name alone can be worth millions of dollars, and a really good brand can soar in spite of economic downturns as this recent study shows. This is to say that if you’re in business with your own intellectual creation, you cannot afford to operate without having an official brand that’s legally trademarked.
But wait! There’s a big caveat.
If you’re not the first user to add the ™ symbol better leave your fingers of that name or you’re at risk of trademark infringement which can get costly and ugly. More importantly, it can stop your business in its track if you’ve launched your business on the foundation of someone else’s trademark, which sadly happens all the time, especially with domain use. Just because a domain name is available doesn’t mean you have the rights to use the brand name. It puzzles me that many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to research existing trademark use. I’m all about taking action, and conscious action is better. If you put all the time, money and effort into a launch wouldn’t you want to know that it hasn’t been done before? Do yourself and the world a favor and do the necessary research before you a) rollout with a program name and b) add the ™ symbol to it.
Do you mean business? Really?
I’ve heard “law of attraction” people say they don’t “believe” in trademarking because they’re not a match to others taking or misusing their intellectual property. Let me reframe that notion. The ™ is not a symbol of defense. It is about you taking a decisive stand for the gift that you’re offering to the world, and being fully responsible for it. It’s like saying to the universe:
‘I’m putting a stack into the ground, and I am ready to receive your full support. Bring it on!’
If you’re lucky and your registration is successful it eventually becomes a symbol of intellectual ownership—and that my dear soul purpose friends—is an awesome achievement that every entrepreneur should experience at least once. Personally, I think it’s equally gratifying than say writing a book—and hey, it’s much less work!
Get real with your mark
Official trademark registration provides peace of mind. I see many entrepreneurs operate with the ™ symbol for many years without having followed up with the official registration. That’s pretending. Anyone can check the data base and see if you’re for real. It’s ok to operate with the ™ for a few months until you’re really sure that it works for your business and that you’re committed to stick with the name. Do market research, surveys, inner contemplation—whatever you need to do to get clear on the name. But once you have clarity though don’t put it off and swiftly move forward with the trademark registration. You’ll be glad you did.
Always file for a federal trademark, not just one with your state. In today’s online world state borders are irrelevant and business is done globally. To qualify for federal registration within the United States, your mark must not likely be confused with another’s mark for similar goods and services offered within the U.S. Applying for an internationally recognized trademark is whole other topic that I’m not going to get into in this post.
What’s the difference between the ™ and the ℠ symbol? The ℠ symbol stands for service mark which differs from a trademark in that it is used on the advertising of a service rather than on the packaging or delivery of the service, since there is generally no “package” to place the mark on, which is the practice for trademarks. However, in recent years Internet marketing principles have changed this idea, and many coaches and other service providers are starting to “package their services.” That’s why I advise my clients to add the ™ to their brand names instead of the less known service mark symbol. In the end—only if you’re successful that is—they both turn into the registered trademark symbol ®. During the trademark application process you must specify whether your trademark is for a service or a product.
An important word about the ® symbol versus the ™ symbol: please don’t use the ® symbol without having first received the fancy “Registration Certificate” with the golden seal from the Federal Trademark Office. Only once a trademark is federally registered can you use the ® symbol, never before. While you’re encouraged to use the ™ symbol prior to filing an application to demonstrate the “in-use” of the mark, Federal Trademark Attorney’s really don’t like it if you claim the ® symbol without their official permission.
Lastly, trademark rights can expire. Trademark rights last as long as the trademark is in continuous use, with an emphasis on continuos. If you’re taking a trademarked product or service off the (virtual) shelf for a period of time, be sure you keep at least a web page up that refers to it. In other words, even if a product or service isn’t continuously available for purchase, the trademark itself needs to be continuously in use to avoid expiration.
Can you file for a trademark on your own?
Yes you can and it depends. I’ve hired a lawyer and was glad that I did, and I’ve successfully filed a trademark all on my own. According to a Federal Trademark Attorney I spoke to, a straight forward application will suffice in 2/3 of the cases if you’ve done your due diligence and your brand name is unique enough. However, you can run into sticky situations where you need to make a claim or defend a rejection, and for that you definitely need a legal representation. A general rule of thumb is if the trademark database comes back with lots of results, consult with a trademark attorney. If it yields zero results, there’s a good chance that you can succeed fling on your own. There are also intermediate providers who do the fling for you for a minimal fee and have trademark attorneys on standby should the need arise. In either scenario a successful registration isn’t a guarantee. An application for approval remains what it is: an application.
So, are you ready to claim your space?
Now that you know what to do and what not to do, ask yourself, do you have the commitment to stand behind your intellectual property so much so that you care enough to file for an official trademark? Therefore don’t tardy, do your research and consciously launch your program or product with the ™ symbol attached to it. Remember, first users have superior rights.
I think of it as karma. There’s plenty of room for everyone to have their genius space. Consciously or unconsciously trespassing on someone else intellectual space is bad karma. If you come up with an idea or a name that’s already in use, put your thinking cap back on and think harder. I know you have enough creative juice to come up with something uniquely original. Remember my slogan… “You’re a lion, not a copy cat!”