Protecting Your Brand

A Guide to Trademarks

Your brand is the symbol that sets you apart and builds trust with your customers. 

It is how they identify your product in a competitive marketplace. So, how do you shield that identity? Trademarks are your tool of choice.

What is a trademark?

Think of a trademark as a legal shield for your brand identity. 

It can be a word, phrase, symbol, design, or even a combination of these elements that identifies your specific product or service and distinguishes it from competitors. Classic examples include the iconic swoosh of Nike or the bitten apple of Apple. 

Interestingly, even product packaging and the unique interior design of your retail stores can be protected as trademarks.

Why are trademarks important?

Trademarks offer several key benefits for startups and established businesses alike:

Common law trademark

You automatically gain some trademark rights simply by using your trademark in commerce. 

For example, if you print your brand name on your products, sell in them regularly in a particular market and take no other legal action, you will still acquire a right over your brand name and can sue to prevent others from using it in certain cases. This is called "common law" trademark protection. However, common law protection has limitations. The most substantial limitation is that it is typically restricted to your geographic area and can be weaker in court if challenged.

While common law offers some protection, registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) significantly strengthens your position. 

The power of registration

Here's what registration gets you:

What can't be trademarked?

Not everything can be a trademark. The USPTO will deny trademarks that are:

When to register your trademark

Ideally, you should register your trademark as soon  as you begin using it in commerce. 

This establishes your priority and secures your rights from the outset.  However, I understand that early-stage businesses have other priorities and this can be overlooked. If that is the case, here are some specific situations where immediate registration is wise:

Don't wait until your brand is established to register your trademark. Early registration provides the strongest possible protection for your valuable brand identity.

Using your trademark effectively

For maximum brand protection and impact, follow these key steps:

By understanding trademarks and using them strategically, you can safeguard your brand and build a strong foundation for your startup or business. Remember, a well-protected brand is a valuable asset that can empower your success.