Branding is essential for both large and small businesses to leave a mark in the eyes of their customers and in the business world at large. It will be a mistake for business owners not to register a brand to see profitability and longevity.
Companies can’t expect much growth if their customers don’t know their brand and can’t recognize it in the sea of other competing brands. It could even be a bigger problem for startups to have trademarks, as it adds credibility in the eyes of consumers and protects the startup’s brand from being used by other companies.
Most, if not all, of the most prominent brands that people patronize today have been registered and patented from the beginning when they entered the market. In many cases, the brand names themselves are used to refer to the actual products in general, such as the way chapstick is used for lip balm, or Band-Aid for adhesive wound pads, or Kleenex for tissues.
Such synonymous brand association was possible because the companies “owned” their brands. Consumers have grown to trust and trust their brands and therefore only look for their specific brand when purchasing such products.
Risks of not registering trademarks
All the legal jargon of what is collectively known as intellectual property can seem intimidating to many people. Some who are just starting out in business would often keep these concerns aside as they worry more about day-to-day operations and getting their business up and running.
They think the legalities of trademark registration can be dealt with once things are up and running and the business gets a bit of a boost. This, however, opens business owners to several risks, including other companies “stealing” their trademarks and customers confusing their products with those of their competitors.
Experts advise that companies register their trademarks as soon as they use them commercially, assuming that all necessary bases have already been taken care of to ensure product quality and suitability for consumers.
It would be good to understand that the trademark registrations attaching a brand to a defective or substandard product could be detrimental and affect all other products associated with that brand.
The best time for business owners to register a trademark would be when they are absolutely certain that the products or services linked to their brand offer something of value and relevance to consumers. They can then work on building and strengthening their brand through marketing and promotions without worrying about competitors stealing their ideas.
What is a registered trademark?
Companies can use any words, phrases, and symbols they want to represent their brand. A trademark refers to the distinctive name and symbol attached to the source of the products or services.
Trademarks are sometimes called brand names and logos. These are what companies use to market their products and services and familiarize them with their customers. However, trademarks and logos are not the same.
A logo is simply any design or symbol used by a company to identify the products and services it offers. It is often used in conjunction with a slogan to create a brand identity.
Meanwhile, a trademark is a distinct logo, slogan, product or service exclusive to a specific brand. Any other company can use a logo or slogan and offer a product or service, but a trademark is protected by law and cannot be used by other entities.
Impact of brands on companies
In marketing, all other associations and interactions with a brand influence consumer perception and subsequent purchasing behavior. If the experience with a brand is positive, the business gains considerable mileage in customers’ purchasing decisions. This is also the reason why some business owners and marketers try to leverage trademarks with brand equity. And this is where the legalities of trademark registration come into play.
While business owners generally have the freedom to think about their brands and logos, they risk getting into legal trouble for using words and graphic elements that are already registered for use by another company. Trademark laws cover the use of exact words and images already trademarked by another company and those that are very similar in look, sound, and meaning. The registered owner of the copied trademark can sue anyone who believes it has committed infringement.
The trademark registration process
Although perceived as tedious and bureaucratic, the trademark registration process is simpler than most people believe. It is even more manageable when done in consultation with trademark experts and attorneys.
These professionals specialize in intellectual property law and are well versed in everything business owners need to know to register a trademark and legally claim all rights to its use. They also know the differences between local and regional laws when it comes to trademarks.
A trademark can be used even if it is not registered. However, when a business owner refuses or neglects to register a trademark, he also limits its distribution only within his locality. In this case of common law use, the business owner does not enjoy the same rights as the registered owner and could still be at risk of being sued. It would be in the best interest of any business owner to invest time and money into trademark research and registration.
The process usually begins with a trademark search. There are online tools, some more complete and extensive than others. The results should show whether a brand is already in use or still available. It should be a no-go for trademarks that are already being used by another company. For trademarks that are available, an application can be filed.
It takes about six to 12 months before applications are approved. Meanwhile, business owners can choose to add the superscript TM to their brands and logos. In this case, the app must be marked as a “Commercial Use” app. For those who are not yet using the trademark, the documents must be submitted as an “Intention to Use” application.
Trademarks are published in the Official Trademark Gazette in case there are problems with the application for use.
Setbacks in trademark registration
It would be ideal if everything goes smoothly and smoothly when business owners register a trademark. The examining attorney assigned to the application may encounter conflicts and problems and may flag it for Office Action.
The business owner could respond by filing an appeal or changing their trademark entirely. Other parties may also file an opposition to a trademark application. This would involve an opposition hearing held in court.
The primary concern for examining attorneys in approving these applications is to eliminate the element of confusion for consumers. The presence of a similar name or image alone is not immediately a cause for disapproval. It is only a problem if it refers to the same products and services from another company and therefore creates consumer confusion. The examining attorney is the one who determines and decides if there is a trademark conflict.
Examining attorneys may decide to issue denials for applications because the trademarks are:
- Merely descriptive or primarily geographically descriptive: simply states an adjective about the product or service. It also applies to geographical descriptions.
- Deceptively Poorly Descriptive or Mainly Geographically Deceptively Poorly Descriptive – Incorrect or inaccurate description of the product or service. Including its origin or location.
- Mere last name – Just a last name with no relevance to the consumer or whose relevance is unclear.
- Ornamentation: Words or images that only indicate something “good”, not necessarily about the product or service the trademark represents.
Simply put, these grounds for trademark denial have to do with vague and misleading representations. In such cases, brand reviews would be beneficial to the business owner in terms of legal and regulatory compliance and from a corporate identity and marketing perspective.
The right time to register a trademark
Business owners can apply to register their trademark at any time. Those who delay their application should be aware of the LLC Services risks they are taking. Submitting an application and obtaining approval should be done as soon as possible to secure the rights to use the specific trademark and avoid potential financial and operational setbacks.
Suppose another company outperforms another in filing and obtaining approval for a trademark that is already in use. In that case, the one who does not have a valid registration loses the right to use the trademark even if he has been using it for a longer time.
For trademark applications that are pending, the one who files the initial application first has priority for approval. It is best to apply for registration before it is too late.
Those who wish to establish a successful business and remain profitable in the long term should consider it imperative to register their trademark immediately. The court can order any company to stop using an unregistered trademark. This could mean more than losing the brand they have spent time and money building for the business in question.
They may be asked to destroy any physical products they have that bear the mark in question. In some cases involving lawsuits, the person who committed trademark infringement may be required to provide monetary compensation to the aggrieved party or the rightfully registered owner of the trademark.
The correct way to apply for trademark registration
The best way to file an application to register a trademark is through a reputable legal expert as it is a legal matter. They can do everything from running a trademark verification and all other processes to getting approval and ensuring a valid registration.
There are law firms that specialize in intellectual property law locally and internationally. Today, many of these offices can be found online, with information about their list of attorneys and their online tools for protecting intellectual property.
Trademark issues are not concerns that should be left to novices unless they are part of a team at a reputable firm that has had years of experience handling intellectual property cases. This will ensure businesses that all necessary forms and documents are completed and submitted correctly to avoid unnecessary delays and potential conflicts that could cause the application to be rejected.
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right company to handle a trademark registration:
1. Availability and accessibility
Members of the legal team handling the case must be accessible to their clients. Especially since trademark registration takes a while to process and approve, someone from the law firm must answer questions about the trademark in question and give updates on the status of the registration application.
This is one of the most common considerations for startups. Understandably, funds are reserved for items and activities that will translate into income immediately. It is not advisable to delay the registration process due to cost. Some companies offer trademarked services at reasonably affordable prices. The government determines the costs of registering the trademark itself and subsequent renewals.
Successful brands and thriving businesses
A properly registered trademark is one of the most critical investments business owners can make. It creates value not only for the products they are branded with, but also in the company’s overall image as a provider of quality goods and services. No thriving business that is known as a brand has an unregistered trademark.
While having a registered trademark does not guarantee commercial success, it certainly adds to the credibility required to convince customers that the brand is worth patronizing. It shows that the business keeps its offer and promise. A trademark will make it easy for customers to find a particular brand that stands out and has a considerable share of mind in a crowded market.
When customers know exactly who they are dealing with, they are less likely to deviate and look for other alternatives. The brand then becomes an effective driver for purchasing decisions. When a company takes the time to register a trademark, it lays a solid foundation for success.