When you register a trademark, you gain legal protection for your intellectual property. Without a registered trademark, competitors and other evildoers could use your brand name, logo, slogan, and other identifying marks for their own gains. But once you receive your registration from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the law protects you.
While your registered trademark protects you, you must in turn protect your registered trademark.
Learn more about trademark protection, and how we can help.
In a perfect world, completing your trademark registration would be enough. Businesses would recognize your rights and avoid using your mark. But the world, as we know, is not perfect. Companies constantly seek opportunities they can leverage towards improving the bottom line.
As your mark becomes more recognizable and successful, the odds of someone creating something similar —- or blatantly duplicating your mark -— increases. This is even more complicated if you’ve opted to rely on a common law trademark instead of officially registering.
Have a lawyer from the start
Trademark disputes are rarely settled with a quick conversation. You can’t simply walk into the person’s office and say, “Hi, John. Could you please stop using my mark?”
If someone infringes on your mark, the only way that you can resolve the situation is through legal means. By preparing ahead of time, you will save yourself time and anguish.
Yes, you could wait until someone actually infringes on your trademark rights before you hire an attorney. But in that situation you won’t realize the many benefits of retaining a lawyer from the start. A lawyer who helps you through the trademark process is more familiar with your mark and your rights. This knowledge can expedite the legal process.
Use an online notification system
Sometimes, a simple search can reveal if another company is using your trademark. You can monitor the use of your mark online by setting up a notification system like Google Alerts. This way, anytime your mark is used online —- maybe in the news or in a blog post -— you will get a friendly tip-off.
You should also set the notification to report any instances of misspelled versions of your mark. Many companies have been able to ward off early encroachments on their trademark rights this way.
A word of caution, though: before you attack a blog or company for illegally using your mark, have an attorney review the situation. Trademark laws are tricky. A company may well be within its right to use a particular word or phrase, and sending an aggressive letter could lead to a harassment suit.
If the lawyer confirms that your rights have been infringed upon, he or she can proceed with a cease-and-desist letter.
Work with a trademark watch service
Just as legal help can be beneficial in the trademark application process, it can also come in handy once you’re already a trademark owner. A trademark watch service monitors all kinds of activity for any instance where your registered mark, or a similar mark, is used, including online usage.
Working with one of these services relieves a lot of pressure. You will no longer be the only person guarding your trademark. Good services will turn up use of the mark that you may never would have found on your own.
A trademark watch service is doubly important if you plan to expand your trademark rights internationally. The service can monitor the use of your mark in target countries, regardless of language.
Getting the right results will boil down to the company you choose. An attorney can help you with this decision. It is a good idea to choose a service that conducts an audit at least once every three months. This will allow you to catch any early trademark infringement on your exclusive rights before they cause too much damage.
Enforce Your Rights
Knowing when to enforce your rights can be tricky, and some battles are not worth the effort. For instance, if you own a restaurant called “Michelle’s Cake,” and someone opens a coffee shop called “Michelle’s Coffee” across town, you need to consider your future business plans and decide if filing a suit is worth the cost, time, and effort.
There are many instances where two companies can coexist with the same business name, because they provide completely different services. The famous dispute between Apple Computer and Apple Corps (a music company) is a good example. Another good example is that of Delta faucets and Delta airlines.
If you do decide to enforce your rights, your next step will be to decide how aggressively you wish to do so and the path that you want to follow. Cease-and-desist letters don’t always have to sound firm and cold. They are also not your only option.
Sometimes, you can diffuse a situation by offering a compromise, like a coexistence agreement that limits the other party to its geographical area or a particular scope of service. Other times, you may agree to license your rights to another party or make an offer to buy the licensing rights to the other’s trademark. There is more than one way to slice the trademark enforcement onion.
Always protect your mark
Registering your mark is only the beginning. You need to actively monitor corporate and web traffic to ensure that no one else is using your mark or trying to cash in on your success with a lookalike.
Doing this is difficult, but it is even more difficult when you try to do it on your own. In some cases, sending a cease-and-desist letter is enough. However, it needs to be done right. Otherwise, it may backfire and actually get you sued.
If you fail to protect your trademark, a situation can quickly spiral out of control, leaving you with a lawsuit that could last for years and cost thousands of dollars to resolve.