Not an Attorney or an Attorney Spokesperson
I want to start off by saying that I am not an attorney, do not have a legal degree, have not taken any law courses, and know absolutely nothing about the law, except what I have seen in Law & Order or The Good Wife. But I do know how the law relates to marketing and would like to share that here.
For more years than I care to count (and really, at this point I don't have enough fingers or toes to do it), I have been a marketing professional in one capacity or another. During that time I have been fortunate not to see or hear of too many legal problems with marketing and advertising. But it does happen from time to time.
What can happen
Mostly it is a business using another company's name, logo, tagline, or other proprietary material in an unflattering way or in a capacity that takes money out of the pocket of the original owner. Less often it is the theft of an idea or creative character. After hearing of a few of these over the years, I am convinced of one thing- if you have a business name and/or logo that needs protecting, you should do it.
Now that the internet is here and only growing stronger, people all over the world see your business name and mark. Someone in Boise may see a company name in Orlando that sounds great. Hey, why not take it and use it here in Boise? No one will know. Or will they...?
A True Story
Years ago I had a friend with a company that had a terrific name that really spelled out what her company was and who was involved. She had the foresight to protect the name (through an attorney) in every state in the country when she started the business. Once the internet came into being, she searched and found that there were businesses with the same name all over the country-Chicago, Texas, Connecticut-all places she thought she was protected in.
At that point there were too many of them to fight. She sent "cease and desist" letters to them, but it was too overwhelming and costly. A great name and terrific brand lost its luster.
She eventually sold the business and moved to Los Angeles for another opportunity. It is unclear whether this theft of her business name affected the price she got when selling her business. It is very possible that it did make a difference.
It isn't just the loss of your investment that can be affected. What about search engine optimization and getting a spot on the first search page of Google?
Obviously something went terribly wrong with her registration and protection of the name of her business. But what would have happened if she hadn't done anything? Probably the same thing-her business name everywhere. This doesn't mean you shouldn't trademark your business name and logo because nothing will help. It does mean that you need to make the attempt and do it the right way.
What Can You Do?
Now that there are inexpensive online sources for trademarking your business name and logo, I suggest that you consider this strongly if you can't afford a trademark attorney. Even if you are a local business, now that the internet is here you want to protect as much of your business as you can. You can perform a search of your own on the United States Patent and Trademark website (USPTO.)
For larger businesses needing help I suggest contacting an attorney that specializes in trademark law. If you are already doing business in multiple locations this is an important part of commerce. Smaller businesses may not have the funds to do this through an attorney. Rather than not doing anything at all, you may want to try one of the online sites such as LegalZoom or LegalAce.
Trademarks are words, names, symbols, devices and images that are used to identify any goods - physical commodities used in interstate commerce. Service marks can be words, names, symbols, devices and images that are used to identify services.
You do not have to register a trademark to protect it, but this onlooker to the legal world believes it is worth discussing and looking into. Don't be surprised later when it is too late.
Where to Go
Applications for trademark registration and service mark registration can be electronically filed using TEAS - Trademark Electronic Application System. The USPTO is encouraging applicants to file electronic registration applications. Fees can be handled electronically as well.
For more information, you can visit the United States Patent and Trademark website, Wall Street Journal- How to Trademark a Company Name,or eHow.com.
As I said before, I'm not an attorney, nor do I represent any, and I am not saying that either of the online companies mentioned in this article will do a great job for you, so check this information out with your legal advisor. (Don't you just love this legal mumbo jumbo?)
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