Did you know the U.S. government recognizes the value of intellectual property? It can protect the ideas generated by entrepreneurs by offering various legal protections against infringement. One such protection is the trademark. We know you may have questions on what a trademark is. A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods of one party from those of others. It is even more than that though, it is at the very heart of the goodwill and reputation of your brand.
It is critical for you to know that trademark protection is different from copyright protection. The latter prohibits others from copying your business’s distinguishing logo, phrase, symbol, or design. Instead, a trademark can protect the association your customers make between your products and your business by guarding your ability to use an identifying mark with your goods and services. Without it, customers may not know if your products come from your company, or they may assume another company’s products are yours. This can do more than just cause confusion. Without proper protection, you may be risking your entire brand.
Beyond your brand, we know that all business owners strive to establish good-will. In many ways this is one of the most valuable assets to a company. It is also one of the easiest to quickly lose, and can quickly become more complicated when someone tries to copy you. Let us share an example with you.
Consider Sally Smith. She opens a real estate company in south Tampa. She is energetic and amazing, and knows her services inside and out. Sally is able to build the momentum that most business owners only dream of. She is out there, kicking-butt, finding clients their dream homes, selling homes in a flash, and, as a result of her hard work, the community starts referring people to her company – Real Estate Group of South Tampa.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. Rick Jones enters the picture next and he opens South Tampa Real Estate Group. Unlike Sally he doesn’t value his customer relationships, he has poor communication practices, and clients are extremely dissatisfied. What’s even worse is now the local community is confused, and Sally has no protections in place to protect her intellectual property. Since the companies are so similar there is very little she can do. Now she has to consider a rebrand, and the downside of any rebrand is you are at risk of losing a lot of the goodwill associated with your company.
By contrast, if she had started off with the protections we can give you, this may never have happened to Sally. Let us give you a bit more information. Have you ever seen a “TM” or an “®” symbol on a product label? That’s an announcement of federal protection. If you’ve registered your mark, we need to use the ® symbol. If you are not yet registered, you may be able to use the TM for goods or SM for services, to indicate that you have adopted a “common law” trademark or service mark. Further, your attorney can advise as to when you need to use these designations to protect your intellectual property.
The simple answer for Sally is that you can protect a trademark. How? One way is to monitor infringement and enforce your rights. Infringement can occur when another seller uses your distinguishing mark. To protect it, you must assert it. Intellectual property rights are exclusive, meaning you have to exclude others from using your distinguishing trademark. The simplest form of protection may be to send a cease and desist letter to the offending party. Further, you may need to tell your customers about the infringement.
We encourage you not to wait to meet with your trademark attorney. He or she can advise you on what you can do to stop infringement before it erodes the value of your trademark. Know that infringement may cause significant loss, and the sooner you act the better. Do not wait to contact our law office to schedule a meeting with our attorney to learn more.