Learn why small businesses should consider trademark protection for their business name, logos, and brand symbols.
We’ve definitely all heard the term “trademark”. However, you may not be clear on how trademarks could benefit your own small business. Do you need to consider a trademark? What can you protect as a trademark? How do you get started?
Basics of Intellectual Property and Small Businesses
Trademarks fall under the broad umbrella of “intellectual property”. Generally speaking, intellectual property protection is divided into three main categories: 1) trademarks 2) patents and 3) copyrights.
Typically, trademarks apply to names/words, logos, symbols, and brand names. Patents apply to inventions and innovations, while copyrights apply to creative works. All of them are designed to make sure that other people can’t take advantage of your ideas or work without proper authorisation.
What Is a Trademark (and Why Do I Need One)?
A trademark is the sign with which consumers 1) recognise your goods and/or services, 2) base their current and repeat purchase decisions on, and 3) distinguish you from your competitors. It also protects the word mark, logo design, and business entity as a whole from being unlawfully imitated. This means granting protection for the “name” of something you’ve created or invented.
A trademark needs to be unique in the area you are doing business and be distinctive, meaning that it cannot just describe exactly what you do. Before you file an application for a trademark, you also need to make sure your business and brand don’t interfere with other prior rights, which could get you into a lot of legal trouble and impede you from using the great brand you believe in.
Should Your Small Business be Registering Trademarks?
Some small business owners assume that “trademarking” is just for the big brands. But protecting your hard work, sweat and tears is just as important for small businesses as it is for huge corporations.
Filing the appropriate trademark is an important step in starting to protect your brand identity. It will deter competitors from imitating your brand and potentially tempting your customers away. It can also offer you some protection if those copycats try to damage your reputation.
How Do I File a Trademark?
Filing a trademark isn’t a simple process, but the protection it affords your brand is worth your time and effort. From what can be trademarked to the process of filing for a trademark, you can read our easy 7‑step guide of how to file a trademark here.
Got your Trademark Registered – Time to Relax?
Wrong! Once you have successfully registered your trademark and no one has opposed to it, it is then equally important to then manage and defend your trademarks. This is called “trademark management” or “trademark portfolio management”. Depending on a number of factors (size of your company, number of trademarks, trademark strategy, territorial coverage of your business etc.), brand owners will need to consider three key points:
- Using a professional to help advise and look after their trademark rights
- Looking at different options for portfolio management, including the use of enhanced technology, increased data analytics, alternative legal services providers
- Setting up a monitoring and defence strategy, thanks to the use of platforms for online monitoring and enhanced intellectual property enforcement.
It is generally advised for brand owners to use some kind of technology platform to optimise and automate the routine (upcoming costs, deadlines, renewal dates, budgeting future costs, etc.). It then allows paralegals and attorneys to focus on strategies for further protection, licensing and defence against misuse, such as counterfeiting matters.
What are the Benefits of Using a Trademark Portfolio Management Platform?
Correct trademark portfolio management basically ensures that your portfolio is in good order and is protected. This can include:
- Ensuring correct ownership, registrations, renewals, recording assignments are in place
- Ensuring trademark related rights do not lapse as a result of non-use
- Trademark watching and monitoring for trademark infringements as well as the consequent enforcement action are carried out promptly and efficiently
- Reducing portfolio management time by streamlining and automating common tasks.
It can also help with business decisions and strategy by:
- Periodically assessing the status of your trademark portfolio assets through an audit
- Using the data to help develop trademark strategies that address how intellectual property rights are acquired, exploited, enforced and licensed, in order to maximise their value to the business.
- Centralising data to deliver a holistic overview of the entire IP portfolio
- Enabling budgeting and future forecasting
- Delivering the data insights required to inform budget-driven decisions, including the cost-risk analysis
If you are new to trademark and are not a seasoned IP lawyer, it is strongly advised that you consult a professional agency to assist and support you on all of the above points.
A Trademark Helps to Protect Your Brand
Essentially, intellectual property laws exists so business owners have rights over their creations, at least for a defined period of time. As an intellectual property right, the trademark helps to ensure that other businesses aren’t piggybacking off of your ideas and brand.
We hope this gives you an insight on the basics of trademark protection.
To discover more, download our eBook which goes into greater detail on the points discussed here. The eBook also includes a handy checklist to ensure you have everything covered.
Download our “Guide to Trademarks” eBook here.