You opened your business and trademarked your brand name, logo, and so on. Fantastic! You’ve taken the first step to ensure only you can profit from your brand. But registering your trademark is just the first step to protecting your brand.
A trademark gives you the right to exclude others from using similar marks in the marketplace that might confuse consumers. The purpose is to make sure consumers know where the goods and services with specific brand names on them are coming from.
For example, if you buy shoes with the Nike logo on them, you probably have very specific expectations for those shoes based on your perception of and previous experience with the Nike brand. It makes sense that Nike would want to protect that brand reputation by excluding anyone else from using the Nike brand name, logo, and so on to market their own products.
You should be doing the same thing to protect your small business brand.
But that’s where most people drop the ball. They think, “I got my trademark registration, so I’m done!” Nope. Once you register the trademark, you have to protect it or you could lose it.
Here are five steps you must follow on an ongoing basis to protect your brand trademark and ensure you don’t lose it:
1. Monitor New Trademark Applications
It’s your responsibility to monitor trademark registrations that might conflict with your registered mark. An intellectual property attorney can help you do this using trademark monitoring services like Corsearch and Thomson CompuMark.
If you don’t monitor for potentially infringing trademark applications and fail to oppose a conflicting mark’s publication, then it becomes much more difficult and much more expensive for you to stop the other mark from hitting the marketplace.
This is a lesson that small business owner Jenny Present (owner of the Proud Mama jewelry collection) learned the hard way when Kris Jenner trademarked #PROUDMAMA.
2. Monitor Unregistered Infringements
In addition to monitoring new trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you also have to monitor unregistered trademark conflicts.
For example, someone might use your mark (or a confusingly similar mark) in their business name, product name, website URL, or social media URL. Even if they didn’t file a trademark application for the mark, it would be considered a potential infringement and it’s your responsibility to respond to it. If you don’t take action to protect your mark, you risk losing it.
3. Create Brand Guidelines
Protecting your brand trademark requires creating brand identity guidelines that explain exactly how the tangible elements of your brand (such as your brand name and logo) should be used. It’s imperative that you educate your employees, business partners, and all of the businesses and vendors in your supply chain about how they can use your trademarks and other brand elements, so they don’t compromise your rights.
Furthermore, you should publish your brand identity guidelines on your website along with the necessary legal language about how your intellectual property can be used just like global brands do (check out how Apple does it). For a great example of simple brand guidelines, check out Skype’s Brand Book, and for an extremely detailed example of brand guidelines, check out IEEE’s Visual Brand Identity Guidelines.
4. Develop a Domain Name Strategy
It is your responsibility to monitor domain name registrations that might conflict with your registered mark. It’s also wise to secure domain names using variations of your brand name with all of the most common extensions.
In other words, you need a domain name strategy because failure to make an effort to protect your trademark against infringing domain names might end up costing you big bucks later when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determines your lack of effort is a forfeiture of your rights. Again, you could lose your trademark if you don’t protect it.
5. Maintain Your Trademark Registration
In addition to monitoring and managing your mark on an ongoing basis to retain your rights, you also need to file maintenance documents. If you don’t file the right documents at the right times, your trademark will be cancelled.
Maintenance documents are required to be filed between the fifth and sixth year after the mark is registered and between the ninth and tenth year after the mark is registered. Take a look at the Trademark Timeline infographic for more details.
Take the Right Steps to Protect Your Brand and Keep Your Trademark
You worked hard to build your brand, and a trademark ensures you’re the only one who can profit from all of that work. Don’t give up your rights by failing to monitor and maintain your trademark!
Every brand has the potential to become extremely valuable, including yours. Trademark it and profit from it—it’s your right!