Protecting Business Names & Product Brand Identities Through Trademark Law
Inexperienced entrepreneurs often overlook the importance of properly securing rights to their business and product names during the frenzied pace of the start-up phase of their businesses. Unfortunately, mistakes at these early stages of choosing and protecting names can end up being very costly.
Trademark law provides the exclusive right to use a mark that serves to distinguish the goods of one person from another. A trademark typically includes a word, phrase, logo, design or even a combination of these. It is used to identify the source of a particular product. A service mark is similar to a trademark except that it is used to identify the source of services. Consumers identify trademarks with a particular quality of goods or services. Trademarks are valuable assets of a business and continuously increase in value as the products or services they represent gain brand recognition and consumer loyalty.
Before launching your product or service in the marketplace, it is important to undertake a comprehensive trademark search and obtain a clearance for your mark. It is not uncommon for businesses to invest considerable sums of time and money promoting a new product or service only to have their marketing efforts made useless because their mark was already in use by another company.
Trademark law protects both trademark owners and consumers. It protects trademark owners by preventing competitors from using a trademark to which they have no rights and to which they are owed no good will. Consumer goodwill is earned by a business over a period of time and trademark law recognizes that it is unfair for a competitor to take advantage of this goodwill without permission.
Trademark law is also concerned with protecting the source and quality expectations of consumers. By preventing anyone other than the trademark owner from using the mark as a source identifier, the law protects consumers from deception. Not only can a trademark owner prevent someone from using its exact mark, but marks that are “confusingly similar” to a trademark can also be enjoined.
Unlike rights in a patent or a copyright, a company’s rights in a trademark can last indefinitely as long as the mark is still in use and the registration is renewed regularly.
Contrary to popular myth, a registered trade name is NOT a registered trademark. This is often an area of confusion. Registration of a trade name with the Secretary of State does not mean that the trade name is not infringing on another trademark. A trademark clearance search should be conducted to ensure that a trade name is not infringing the rights of others. To obtain nationwide trademark protection, the mark should also be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.