As recently noted in Forbes magazine, a strong brand name is an incredibly valuable asset. Companies producing consumer goods devote much money, time and resources in an effort to solidify and expand their brands. Having a valuable brand enables a company to charge a premium price for goods and take a considerable portion of market share. Not surprisingly, when setting up a business, one of the primary concerns is trying to ensure that your brand succeeds.
An important part of a company’s brand stems from what the new business calls itself and what designs and logos accompany the company’s name. A unique name, logo or design is often crucial in allowing a business to stand apart from its competitors. Obtaining a trademark for that unique name, logo or design is often critical to protecting the nascent brand. A trademark is, broadly, any symbol, design or word used to distinguish or identify the supplier or manufacturer of a particular good available from one company from another. A service mark is identical to a trademark, but it applies to a service rather than a good.
Trademarks are often quite valuable assets. For example, according to the Bright Hub website, the words and logo Coca-Cola, drawn in flowing handwriting script, is one of the most widely recognized trademarks in the world and has an estimated value of over $79 billion. Not surprisingly, the Cola-Cola company aggressively guards this asset from infringement. Coca-Cola is not the only company to aggressively guard against trademark infringement. CBS News reports that the Hershey Co. recently sued a Colorado manufacturer of pot-infused candy, claiming that its candies too closely resemble the iconic products of the chocolate maker. Indeed, even the distinctive shape of that Hershey Kiss can obtain protectable intellectual property status.
Inc. magazine notes that protecting your trademark is akin to “managing a winning sports team-you need both a good offense and a good defense.” The offense begins with choosing a business name, slogan or logo that you will be able to protect. That takes time in that you need to identify a strong trademark or service mark that will be difficult for competitors to steal or co-opt. The defense comes into play once you have begun using you trademark and involves: (1) using the mark correctly; (2) vigilantly monitoring for potential infringements; and (3) taking steps to enforce your rights against infringers.
There are various ways to go about trying to protect the value of your trademark from would-be infringers. Some businesses hire a trademark watch service which, for a fee, lets you know if anyone is using a similar name, logo or design. Many businesses sign up for Google Alerts. Google Alerts allows you to set up a free account that will send you alerts, via email, about every place on the web where your trademark is being used in some form or fashion. In addition, businesses can do their own periodic Internet searches by employing search engines such as Bing and Google to attempt to detect if trademark infringement is occurring.
If a company is infringing on your trademark, the first step in enforcement is typically to send a cease and desist letter to the alleged infringer. If that proves insufficient to deter the infringer, legal action would then become necessary.
Seek legal help
If you are starting a new brand, consider protecting it with trademark registration. If you already have a trademark that you believe is being infringed, you should give Burkhalter Kessler Clement & George LLP a call and we can discuss the necessary action to help you protect the value of your trademark.