The word “trademark” gets thrown around a lot, but what does it mean? Is owning a trademark really relevant to you as a small business owner? Today is your lucky day because we’re about to mic drop some serious trademark knowledge for you!
WHAT THE HECK IS A TRADEMARK?
A trademark is a “source indicator.” It’s used to identify the provider of a product or service and distinguish it from other providers and their businesses. It can be a phrase, word, or logo. Essentially, a trademark is a way to protect your brand. Because of a trademark, a customer knows they can expect a certain level of quality, service, etc. Think about your impressions of the Four Seasons versus Super 8. You’ll assume something about each of those hotels based on their trademarks. From this basic example, it’s clear how trademarks can influence how a consumer reacts or thinks about a product.
As a business owner, you can technically own a trademark simply by naming your business or using a logo, but that doesn’t offer you maximum protection. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows small businesses, entrepreneurs, and big companies alike to register their trademarks
But what does that have to do with your business?
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT TRADEMARKS FOR MY BUSINESS?
First of all, if you have a trademark registration, it serves as a public record of your ownership of your business name, logo, or slogan, and it prevents anyone else from registering a similar trademark with the USPTO. Essentially, it’s calling “dibs” on a name and making sure no one else can use it.
If someone else does start using the same or a similar trademark in connection with the goods or services you also operate under, it’s called trademark infringement. Imagine someone loved your photography business name so they started using it too, but then all your clients got confused and started hiring them instead of you. That’s trademark infringement – the other person is profiting off YOUR name unfairly. Now imagine they were profiting off your name and the quality of their work was terrible, so consumers started leaving bad reviews under your business profile because they got your websites mixed up. It’s pretty clear how quickly infringement can become damaging to your business.
A federal trademark registration gives you the power to stop that infringement from happening, plus it allows you to get payment for the unfair benefits and damages the infringer caused to your business.
On the flip side, what if you are unwittingly infringing on someone else’s established trademark? It’s important to have a professional conduct a search – and we’re not just talking Google – before settling on brand names, logos, etc., otherwise you could be liable to someone else!