How to Protect Your Trademark Online: A Handy Guide
A trademark is a valuable asset for any business, and it should be protected. Legal battles concerning intellectual property infringement and trademarks can be costly and time-consuming. By familiarizing yourself with the many ways you can protect your brand and business, you’re protecting yourself while enabling your business to grow.
Here’s a primer on how you can better protect your trademark online. Find out what you need to know about brands, their importance, and the steps you can take to enjoy legal protection.
What Is a Trademark and Why Is It Important?
A trademark is an element that identifies a brand’s goods and services. It establishes recognition among customers and helps them distinguish a particular brand from its competitors. A brand can be found everywhere, from store shelves to the web, making the trademark an indispensable tool for businesses worldwide.
Aside from brand recognition, a trademark communicates to your audience that you are a legitimate business, which, in turn, helps build trust.
More than being used for identification, a trademark can be one of the best assets any business should have. It provides businesses with legal protection from issues like intellectual property infringement now and in the future.
Why You Should Register Your Trademark
An important yet often overlooked aspect of building a business and a brand is protecting what you’ve built. Registering your trademark prevents others from using a similar identification, which minimizes the risk of confusing your customers and prevents your competitors from profiting from the reputation you’ve established.
Your trademark is one of your most valuable assets. It carries your brand reputation and enables name recognition among customers. It’s an important tool that drives consumer loyalty, and it’s one of the things that set you apart from the competition.
Registering your trademark protects your business and the markers associated with it, and it lets you have control over your identification. Additionally, registering a trademark enables you to take legal action against entities that misuse or steal your trademark.
Protecting Your Trademark Online in USA and Internationally
While trademark registration does give businesses protection, it’s not an all-in-one, infallible solution, especially in this day and age, where reputations and brands can be easily damaged, misused, or stolen.
This is why it’s essential to protect your trademark online. It can admittedly be a time-consuming and costly process. However, losing a trademark battle can spell a devastating loss for any business.
The good news is, there are ways to protect your trademarks at the onset effectively. By understanding what needs to be done and by using technology to your advantage, you can have an easier and more convenient way of protecting your trademark.
1. Create a unique and robust mark
Before building a business or a brand, you should first set out creating a strong or unique trademark. Aside from giving you immediate protection against infringement, a strong trademark is more effective at establishing brand recognition, as well as identifying you as the source of the products or services you’re marketing.
Strong trademarks are easier to protect than weak ones, given that the latter doesn’t enjoy the same legal protections that strong trademarks have.
The USPTO recognizes five trademark types, which it classifies under unacceptable, pertaining to weak, difficult to protect, and acceptable, for strong trademarks that are characteristically unique or creative, which effectively set you apart from the competition.
As the name suggests, descriptive trademarks only describe some aspect of what you’re providing. It doesn’t establish your brand’s uniqueness and doesn’t do much to identify you as the source of the goods or services in question. Some examples include:
Generic trademarks aren’t considered trademarks per se. They’re common names for the goods or services you’re providing like “speakers” if you’re marketing speakers or “bakeshop” for a bakery. Given that generic trademarks don’t indicate a source, they can’t function as trademarks and thus can’t be registered.
Fanciful trademarks have the power to give businesses the most protection. These are described as invented terms that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the product or service you’re providing. Examples include “Starbucks” for coffee and “Fanta” for carbonated soft drinks.
Arbitrary trademarks are actual words used to identify brands but don’t necessarily have a connection or an association with the goods or services provided. If someone sells shells and uses “shell” as a trademark, then this trademark would be impossible to register. However, Shell is a registered trademark for gasoline, diesel, oil, and all its other products.
A suggestive trademark hints at what is being offered. However, it doesn’t state what the product or service is outright. Think of “Mattress Firm” or “Netflix”. Both suggest an idea. The former suggests firm mattresses for better sleep, while the latter suggests that you can subscribe to it so you can start watching TV shows and movies (or flicks) online.
2. Do your research
Once you’ve come up with a strong trademark, you need to conduct a comprehensive trademark search. Not running a thorough search beforehand can lead to costly and time-consuming legal proceedings. Consequently, infringing on an existing trademark may cause you to rebrand your business to avoid further legal issues.
Start by searching the USPTO’s trademark database to check if your brand has already been registered or applied for. Check for marks that are similar to yours, already in use on related products or services, and live. If you find that your mark meets all three criteria, then your mark will not be registered as doing so will create what the USPTO calls “a likelihood of confusion.”
The USPTO defines “likelihood of confusion” as something that exists between trademarks that are so similar in sound, appearance, and a commercial impression that it leads to consumers mistakenly believing that two separate products or services come from the same source. The likelihood of confusion is often what causes many trademark disputes, and not necessarily the exact matches with other marks.
Sometimes, going the DIY route isn’t always the most rewarding to better protect your mark. Working with a qualified trademark registration agency will give you the best chances of protecting your intellectual property.
3. Register your trademark with the USPTO
Once you’ve completed the first two steps, you need to register your trademark in USA with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to get full trademark protection.
While you can continue doing business even without registering your trademark, this can enable anyone to use your brand, in effect preventing you from using the trademark that you’ve created. Furthermore, not registering your trademark will only give you legal rights within the particular geographic area in which you’re operating.
Yes, you’re provided a layer of protection by common laws. However, these are only limited and are only valid for a specific geopolitical area. Common laws won’t protect you from someone who uses your trademark in another state. Furthermore, should you wish to grow your business to a new area or state and find that your mark is already being used there, you may find yourself dealing with infringement issues.
4. Register everything that has something to do with your trademark
When registering a trademark, it’s important to register everything that’s related to your mark and your brand. In the registration, you can include your company name, product names, slogans, and even your domain name. By registering every element that’s associated with your brand, you’re reducing the risk of someone else using them.
It’s also helpful to register any ideas that you may be using in the future. Registering these elements, even if you won’t be using them any time soon, means that should a need for them arise in the future, you’re able to use them and not have to worry about any legal implications.
Registering your trademark, along with its associated elements, provides you with security. If you register a mark and put it into use before your competitors do, you won’t have to change your branding or alter your marketing plans or campaigns.
Once you’ve registered your mark, pay attention to the date you file your application. The filing date will be considered as your national priority date and effectively prevents other businesses or individuals from registering a similar or confusing mark after your national priority date.
5. Register your social media handles
Registering your social media handles ensures that these handles and your business name will match. By ensuring that you have a matching business name and social media handles, you’re making it easier for customers to find you, instead of your competitor.
6. Monitor your trademark
One of the most effective ways to protect your brand and your trademark is monitoring it. Pay attention to your mark and enforce its exclusivity of use.
If you’re in the process of applying for trademark registration, you can use the trademark symbol (™). The trademark symbol also indicates that a particular element like a logo or a phrase is used as an identifier of a product or service’s source. The registered sign (®) is used to indicate that your business is registered with the USPTO and is protected.
Include these symbols in avenues where your trademark is visible, from printouts to your website.
However, even with these measures, some entities may still opt to use your mark for whatever purpose knowingly. As a trademark owner, you need to know how to protect yourself from such infringements. If you ever face trademark violations, it’s essential to take immediate and appropriate action. Assert your ownership and work with a trademark attorney to enforce your legal rights. Failing to do so may result in the loss of control not only of your brand but also the reputation you’ve worked hard to build.
7. Maintain your trademark registration
To ensure that your trademark is always protected, you must maintain your registration.
The great thing about a trademark is it can last forever as long as you continue to use the products or services you’ve included in your initial application. Once you’ve registered a trademark, you only have to renew it periodically.
The first renewal happens between the fifth and sixth year of use. The second renewal occurs between the ninth and tenth year of use after the initial registration date. After this time, you need to renew the trademark every 10 years to continue enjoying trademark protection.
It’s important for businesses to be vigilant regarding trademark renewal registration dates. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not notify you of your renewal date as it draws closer. Missing your renewal deadline can lead to the trademark being canceled or lost.
8. Get international protection
It’s worth noting that a trademark registration doesn’t offer international protection. State and Federal registration of your trademark only provides protection within your respective state and country’s geopolitical boundaries.
If you want international protection, you can either submit a trademark registration in each country where you want to have your trademark protected or file regional trademarks in countries like the European Union, which allows you to enjoy trademark protection within each country part of such groups.
Having an internationally registered trademark gives you more opportunity for global expansion while enabling you to protect your intellectual property against counterfeiters in the country you’re working in.
Trademarks are a valuable aspect of any brand, and they should be protected. By taking appropriate measures to protect your brand not only in the real world but also online, you’re protecting your business. Registering your mark is one of the best ways to protect your brand and prevent others from stealing or misusing what you’ve worked hard on for their gain. It also protects you from facing any costly and time-consuming legal issues that may force you to rebrand and start again.
December 17 · 4 min read