In recent years, technology has revolutionized the marketing function for businesses large and small, and the concept of branding has evolved right along with it. What was once a sophisticated component of full-scale marketing campaigns for corporate America’s elite, branding is now championed by “consultants” and “business coaches” as an essential element of small business marketing plans. Social media platforms, in particular, have given rise to new methodologies and techniques for small businesses and individuals, alike. For example, influencer marketing, personal branding, and thought leadership are popular online strategies centered around social media communities such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, among others. In the wake of this “branding-hype” tidal wave, trademarks (i.e., name, logo, slogan, etc.) are gaining popularity as a means for strengthening brand identity and securing intellectual property.
A trademark ™ is used for words, phrases, symbols, or designs to identify and distinguish the source of goods amongst businesses in the marketplace.
A service mark®, while likewise referred to as a trademark, is used to identify and distinguish the source of a service rather than a product.
Benefits of a Trademark
When considering a trademark/service mark for your business, understanding the benefits (i.e., extent of protection) afforded by these registrations is imperative. In an article published by www.allbusiness.com titled, How Much Protection Does a Trademark Really Give Your Business?, Nellie Akalp identifies the primary benefits of a trademark as follows:
- Brand protection by way of preventing confusion in the marketplace,
- Exclusive rights to use of trademarked item (i.e., word, phrase, symbol, or design) within specific industry throughout the U.S., and
- Ten (10) year initial term for approved trademarks (and unlimited number of subsequent renewals).
In the November 2015 edition of the LCPA’s Lagniappe, Marjorie Adams, CPA identified the following six (6) reasons for deciding to trademark her CPA firm’s name:
- Protection against imposters and copycats,
- Brand security in social media,
- Infinite duration of brand protection,
- Cost-effective form of brand protection,
- Brand promotion and loyalty amongst team members (both owners & staff),
- Protection against cybersquatting.
In determining whether to register a trademark for your business, begin by documenting your response to this question:
- What is the geographical reach of my company’s operations now and in the immediate future? (In other words, will we be conducting business outside of our home state, or will we be conducting business exclusively within our home state?)
To define the “geographical reach of your company’s operations”, I suggest listing the location(s) of the following aspects of your business:
- State(s) where products will be sold &/or services will be performed,
- State(s) where goods/services will be purchased/produced/procured,
- State(s) where employees will carry out their responsibilities, and
- State(s) where property is owned &/or offices/stores/warehouses are maintained.
Important Consideration – Keep in mind that your business website, blog, and social media profiles make up an important part of your brand that you may want to protect. While it is true that these applications broaden your brand’s reach, you should also remember that they represent opportunities for unauthorized use/copy of your business’s intellectual property.
If you determine that your business will be operating in numerous locations outside your state of formation, you may wish to seek federal protection offered by a trademark. In this case, I recommend the following actions:
- Decide whether or not to register a trademark(s) for your business,
- Identify important words, phrases, symbols, &/or designs that you want customers to associate with your product/service (and therefore, require protection as a registered trademark), and
- Contact a trademark attorney for assistance in conducting the trademark availability assessment and preparing the registration application, and
- Set aside approximately $1,000 – $1,500 to finance the services of trademark attorney for completing the registration process