One of the less glamorous, but no less important, parts of becoming an entrepreneur is acquainting yourself with a host of rules, practices, and terminology that make up the backbone of your business. One of these elements is trademarks: what is a trademark, what parts of your business can you trademark, and what stage of the business life cycle might you consider registering a trademark?
In essence, a trademark is anything that is considered a source identifier. Consider a product that you recently purchased: how did you know what brand you purchased it from? Anything from the name of the product, to the color of the packaging, could be considered a source identifier. Just because something helps identify the producer, however, doesn’t mean it is considered something you can trademark.
Things you can trademark typically include:
- Business names
- Service names
- Product names
As soon as you open a business or develop your product, you have likely formed or acquired some source identifiers. At the very least, you have a name and a logo, right? Even so, you may not need to be thinking about trademarks at this stage of the game.
There are two ways to secure a trademark. One is the formal route of trademark registration, which may be advisable only when your business picks up traction due to the costs associated with this process. The second route is more informal; called an unregistered or common law trademark, doing business using a name or logo helps establish your reputation and mark without the paperwork. In the early days, it is likely more appropriate that you lean on this method.
When you have an idea about a name for your brand or product(s), it is a good idea that you first check if they’ve already been registered as part of your competitive analysis. You can do this by using online databases maintained by the governments of the countries you do business in; as an obvious first step, start in your home country.
Even if results do appear for your chosen trademark terms, all is not necessarily lost. In the US, trademarks are based on use; if it’s not being used, even if the mark has been registered, you might be able to challenge the registration and claim the name for your business with the help of a trademark attorney.
After you’ve searched your local databases, check Google as the next step. Run the same searches and see what pops up; if you find results in the database, Google is a good way to see how active the marks are. Finally, make an identical search for social media.
If you’ve decided to officially register a trademark, it’s a good idea that you get in touch with a professional who can provide legal advice specific to your business. Consider having them perform a more thorough search of what else is out there before you invest your time and resources in applying for trademark registration.
Ultimately, trademarks are an important part of proactively protecting your intellectual property when you’re running a business. It’s your own hard work that you’re guarding, after all.