For small businesses, it’s critical to know how to register a trademark, protect it and avoid infringing on established ones.
The first big decision start-ups and small businesses make is to select a name for their products, services or company. But it may be a costly mistake if you don’t evaluate your trademark first.
Typically, start-ups and small businesses choose a business name, print business cards, buy a domain name, build a website, finalize packaging and start selling their product or service as fast as they can. They don’t think about federal or state trademarks until much later – usually when they have some extra time or cash.
Discovering later that your trademark infringes on another and you must choose another business name means all the money spent developing business cards, domain names, websites, and packaging was wasted and you are back to square one. Additionally, trademark lawsuits can be time-consuming and costly — amounting in hundred of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The smarter way is to choose a name, then research trademark availability before committing company funds to business cards, website design and product packaging.
Do some homework.
First search Google to see if your intended trademark already exists.
Then pay for a trademark research report that includes information from federal and state trademark databases. This comprehensive search will likely discover any potential problems.
Don’t “parody” a famous brand.
Trademark parody means having a trademark that plays off of an already famous one. Big companies have protection against that. They also have massive legal budgets that you don’t.
Most large iconic brands, such as Coca-Cola McDonald’s , Pepsi are protected by a law called the Trademark Dilution Revision Act. This law protects famous trademarks from being violated even if the new trademark is being used for a non-competing product or service.
In sum, don’t try to play off famous brand names.
Hire a lawyer.
An experienced trademark lawyer can assess your trademark prior to filing and determine if it is low risk, high risky or clearly a violation of an existing trademark.
Most law firms offer a fixed fee package for trademark searching and trademark application services. Every small business can afford trademark searching and trademark application services. The long-term cost savings can be enormous.
Trademark protection at home and abroad.
Small businesses should file a federal trademark registration with the United States Patent & Trademark Office, which will protect their trademark nationwide.
It is also important to consider registering a European “Community Trademark.” This protects a trademark in 27 European countries. Trademarks may also be registered in Canada, China and Japan, to ensure your small business isn’t vulnerable to trademark infringement abroad.