Starting a business is often an exercise in trying to stay above that red line from month-to-month until the dust settles. It’s no wonder many small business owners can’t devote as much time as they’d like to their branding strategies. However, one area of intellectual property that must make sure to protect is their trademark. A trademark is a word, phrase, or image that sums up the values and mission of a company. By conducting a search and filing to register a trademark, you can rest easy knowing that your unique ideas have been protected from any potential copycats. Find out how they work and why they’re so important to businesses, especially those just getting started.
Trademarks set the stage
The real value of a business is how they’re able to offer products or services that can solve our problems and anticipate our needs before we realize we have them — no amount of branding can change this. A trademark can help customers form a connection with a company immediately. The mark should be recognizable enough that it instantly sums up the company’s mission for its consumer base.
Think of a company that makes luxury paper goods from recycled products, for example. They may choose the image of a tree or an environmentally-friendly phrase that ties in with their company name as a way to position themselves to stay at the top of their customers’ minds. In this case, the trademark should advertise the company as both forward-thinking and responsible. Other cases might feature the business owner representing their own brand if they have a positive local or national notoriety. For example, The Kris Lindahl Team real estate company in Minnesota was created and popularized by owner Kris Lindahl. This led him to trademark his own name and brand himself accordingly.
Trademarks allow your business to stand out
There are tons of internationally known trademarks that consumers everywhere know about, even if they don’t engage with that brand. The most dedicated vegan can still pick out the golden arches of McDonald’s because the logo has become synonymous with the fast food giant. A trademark for a new business is a way to work their company mission into the public eye. This kind of general awareness helps your business to stand out from the crowd and translates into word of mouth and increased online exposure.
The value of a trademark consistently contributes to the value of the company over time, meaning one fuels the other. Most people just need to see the ghost of the Snapchat app to immediately equate the image with a successful company. It’s part of what fueled the excitement behind their IPO. Whether the person has ever used Snapchat or not, they have a relationship with it as soon as they see the logo. Trademarks never expire as long as the company is still in business, and they’re inexpensive to maintain. Companies may only pay several hundred dollars every few years for a logo that can generate millions of dollars in profits.
When to starting filing to register your mark
First, verify if the trademark is available for public registration. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can reject a mark if it looks too similar to another registered elsewhere. Conduct a search to make sure that your trademark is available and then, if it is, file an application to register it.
The ideal time to register a trademark is generally right after starting the business. This gives the company protection over their unique ideas in case they’re developing trademarks that are too closely related to other competing companies. To steer around some of the uncertainty, companies can choose to file under ‘intent to use’ which is an excellent way of holding onto a trademark until they’re ready to incorporate it into their branding strategy.
Greg Geilman is a Los Angeles native of over 40 years and owner of South Bay Residential.