by: Nicole Gaither of creativaiplaw.com
You’ve finally come up with the perfect name for your company. But this doesn’t mean that you can just start using it for your business. Kylie Jenner, Beyoncé, and Kanye West have learned this the hard way by filing applications for trademarks that have already been registered. So no one, not even celebs, is immune from the legal complications that can come up if you don’t take necessary protections in your business. Here are some tips that you should keep in mind so that you avoid the possibility of an enormously expensive lawsuit or rebrand. And these tips will also help you protect your intellectual property so that it can become one of the most valuable assets of your company.
- Not checking to see if it’s already in use.
Branding is the single most important part of building your company. Good branding starts with finding the perfect name. When you finally have your name, it can be tempting to move forward and start stamping your name (or slogan) on everything. However, this can get you into serious – not to mention costly – trouble.
This is the issue that has Kylie and Kanye trying to keep their their trademark applications alive for Rise and Shine and Sunday Service, respectfully. I have seen a shocking number of companies that never took the time to make sure their brand name hadn’t already been registered and claimed by someone else. If someone else has already claimed the name you have been dreaming about using, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board. Before you place an order for those business cards, pay for that domain name, hang tags for those t-shirts, and spending thousands in marketing, make sure to check the name to be sure you are in the clear.
- Trying to get away with a subtle change to a popular name
Think about how you would feel if a company did this to you. And… think about the legal action you would be fighting to take against them for changing your name by one letter and trying to claim it as their own. It should go without saying that if you start selling purses called “Praada” or “Guchi,” you are setting yourself up for a world of trouble. As long as there is a reasonable possibility of confusion between two company names, you could be liable for trademark infringement. Besides, do you really want to be sending the message that all you are is a cheaper knock-off of another brand?
- Not using your trademark often enough
Not using the name of your business trademark (and the ®) frequently enough can affect the strength of your trademark rights. Let’s say you decided to name your business Bougie Belle Cupcakes. If you sometimes use Bougie Belle, Boujy Bella, Bougy Bell on your cupcakes, website, or advertising, your trademark use isn’t consistent. If you keep doing this, not only will your branding get confusing, but you could lose your trademark rights. Be consistent for your sake, your customers, and your trademark.
- Forgetting to renew your trademark
It would be great if you could register your trademark and let it go. However, that’s not the way the US trademark system works. I’ve seen and worked with clients who had registrations and lost their trademark rights to the name because they forgot to renew their trademarks. After a certain period of time, if someone decides to register a name similar to your abandoned or cancelled registration, they could get rights to your name. You could fight this if you are still using the name, but it’s going to cost you.
Don’t let this happen to you. You will need to renew your trademark between the 5 and 6 year marks and every 10 years afterwards, as long as you are still using it.
- Failing to make sure no one else is using your trademark
You know what else would be great? If other people wouldn’t try to take your trademark and use it for their own business without your permission. You need to constantly do what you can to ensure that no one else is using your business trademark. While conducting an online search is one method used to monitoring things, this is one area where it really helps to have a professional on your side.
You want to make sure that your brand stays consistent and that it stays loyal to your company and only your company. If you are not careful, your trademark could end up becoming a generic term. Don’t think it could happen to you? Well it happened to Aspirin, Yo-Yo, Zipper, and Escalator.
Now you know the mistakes you need to avoid when registering your company’s trademark and maintaining it.