By Carolyn M. Brown –Blackenterprise.com
A trademark is often an important tool worth investing in to protect the intellectual property of the business. Intellectual property rights cover creations both artistic and commercial. Trademarks protect words, names, or symbols identifying goods made or sold, distinguishing them from others, while patents protect inventions. Copyright protects books, movies, music, paintings, photographs, software, etc. and gives the copyright holder exclusive right to control reproduction or adaptation of such works for a certain period of time. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office administer IP laws and rules.
Many business owners and entrepreneurs wonder whether they should trademark their company name. After listing the pros and cons, the answer was a crystal clear ‘yes’ for Marjorie Adams, president and CEO of Fourlane, an Austin, Texas-based QuickBooks reseller and consulting firm. Fourlane helps improves the efficiency of client accounting departments through bookkeeping, tax, software consulting and business process training. Trademarking may not be for everyone. “Just like anything involving the government, the process takes months of research and there is a long waiting period to get approved,” notes Adams.
In early 2015, after changing her company’s from AQB to Fourlane, Adams promptly applied for a trademark on Fourlane and its sister company, POSWarehouse. Both names now have approved trademarks, or in this case, “service marks.” A trademark and a service mark really aren’t different, she explains, it just depends whether you have a product or service. A trademark — designated as ™ — is used for words, phrases, symbols or designs to identify and distinguish the source of the goods of one party from others. A service mark (using the registered mark or “®”) is also referred to as a trademark, except it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.
Despite the hassle of dealing with government agencies and paying for a trademark attorney to help sort out details, as well as the time it takes to jump through government hoops, here are six reasons Adams gives as to why trademarking your name is important.
- It protects against impostors and copycats. With a trademark, your name is legally protected so that no one can duplicate it. A trademark protects ownership rights over the name—a logo, tagline or whatever you’ve trademarked. Once you have a trademark, competitors can’t use your name. If they try, you can take swift, legal action.
- It secures your brand on social media. Customers search for brand names on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media sites. The social media venues have policies in place to protect you against abuse—someone grabbing your company name and misrepresenting your brand can result in suspending the account. See Twitter’s policies for more information. “Our business name, Fourlane, was formerly a Web design firm before we took over the URL. To get access to the Fourlane account, all we had to do was change the e-mail address,” she says.
- Trademarks never expire. Nabisco Cream of Wheat, Carnation Condensed Milk and Pabst Blue Ribbon all have trademarks more than a 100 years old. Once the process of trademarking is complete, you’re protected with no pesky renewals. This also means we can sell our trademark if we ever want to do so.
- Trademarks are inexpensive. Depending on the type of trademark you need, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office charges between $225 and $325 per trademark. The minimal fee makes the decision whether to trademark a no-brainer, but remember that this does not include any research or legal fees.
- Trademarks build brand loyalty. Registering trademarks mean you’re in it for the long haul. This reassures customers as well as employees that as the business owner you are committed to the business.
- Trademarks safeguard against cybersquatting. Cybersquatters register domain names that are identical or similar to well-known trademarks with the purpose of selling them for a high fee. The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1999 to allow the trademark owner to sue to collect damages from individuals who registered a domain name that is identical or similar to a trademark.
A version of this story appeared on the BusinessCollective, a virtual mentorship program designed to help millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses, which was launched by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).