Question: How important is it to trademark my business name? I’ve created a new online presence, and want to make sure I’m taking the right steps to protect my name and brand.
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Answer: Trademarks are words (Coke), logos (the Nike swoosh), slogans (Nike’s “Just do it”) or other marks that are used by a business as a brand name. The purpose of a trademark is to differentiate your goods from other competitors as part of your strategy to build consumer loyalty and goodwill. Legal protection for your trademarks can help you prevent knockoffs that harm your brand and your business. Trademarks can also be quite helpful in business deals, as they can facilitate licensing, franchising and transfer of ownership.
A trademark is generally granted to the first business to use the mark in connection with the sale of goods or services. In the United States, registration of the mark is not required for the mark to be legally protected. Businesses sometimes use the symbols TM (for goods) or SM (for services) to signify legal claims to an unregistered mark. However, to secure maximum legal protection you will need to register under federal law, which entitles you to use the ® symbol with the mark. To consumers, this symbol represents dependability, trustworthiness and professionalism.
Most words and symbols can be trademarked, but it is important to select a mark that is “distinctive,” i.e., a mark that has the capacity to distinguish your goods and services from others in the market. The mark “Tasty” for a new apple variety would be a poor choice for a trademark as it simply describes the apples. Descriptive words can’t usually be trademarked. Made-up words (“SweeTango” for a new apple variety, “Allegra” for a drug) can be trademarked.
You should consult a trademark attorney to discuss the appropriate steps to protect your particular brand name.
About the author
Michael Garrison is the associate dean for faculty and scholarship in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.