On Thursday, November 8th, over 30 business executives, CEOs, and marketing and business development professionals joined us for “Rock Your Brand,” a half-day strategic branding conference focused on changing the way companies think about growing, protecting, and promoting their business.
I joined Melanie Spring (@sisarina), founder of Sisarina, a strategic marketing agency, and Carrie Fox (@carriefox) of C. Fox Communications, a media and communication strategy company focused on social good and savvy messaging. During the conference, we covered the three basic steps for rocking your brand: living the brand, protecting the brand, and delivering the brand.
As an added bonus, they didn’t have to sit through PowerPoint presentations. Instead @Swirlyfoot designed storyboards that covered each of the key take-away points.
Here are a few of the trademark-law nuggets the conference attendees walked away with:
What is a trademark?
Simply speaking, it’s almost anything you use to distinguish your business, products or services from everyone else’s.
It can be:
- A word—your product name
- A symbol—your logo
- A slogan—your tagline
- A package design or shape
- Even a sound, smell, or color
Trademarks increase your brand’s value by representing the quality and characteristics of your products or services. Most importantly, they help protect you from others who want to use marks similar to yours – and dilute your brand.
To gain all of the benefits of a strong brand, however, I explained to the conference attendees that it’s critical to (1) clear the mark, and (2) protect the mark.
Step 1: Clear Your Trademark
When developing or revitalizing a brand, make sure other people aren’t already using (or intending to use) your brand name for something similar. Before you invest in brand development, keep the following in mind:
- Keep Your Options Open. Have options available for names and logos in case a similar mark is already being used.
- Be Distinctive, Not Descriptive. Trademark law has a sliding scale of protectability: the stronger the mark, the stronger the protection.
- Clear Everything, Everywhere. Check final trademark contender names, logos, and taglines to see if someone else has registered or is using a similar mark, including overseas (if you expect to do business abroad). A clearance search by an experienced attorney can help you chose the best option for your brand.
- …Virtually Everywhere Too. Don’t forget about the virtual world! Check domain names, Facebook pages, LinkedIn company pages, and Twitter handles.
- Think Ahead. If you plan on adding other products or services in the future, check those categories of products and services too.
Step 2: Protect Your Mark
Once you’ve cleared a strong, distinctive mark for your brand, safeguard it to increase your brand’s value and help prevent infringement of your rights by competitors.
- Make It Official – Register! Get a federal registration of your mark to protect it. There are a lot of benefits of registration:
Alert others that you’re using (or plan to use) your mark
Provides legal protections if you have to enforce your mark rights
Grants trademark rights—in some countries, no registration means no rights
- Show off. Once your mark is registered, use the ® symbol next to it to show that it’s officially yours. Make your mark stand out in writing (print and digital) by using a different color or font, quotation marks, all caps, etc.
- Don’t dilute. If you use your marks as nouns or verbs, they are in danger of becoming generic terms and could lose their legal protection. Always use your marks as adjectives: we use the GOOGLE search engine; we don’t Google (verb) a restaurant menu.
- Watch out. Even if you’ve registered a mark, keep an eye out for copycats. Failing to protect your marks could make them unenforceable in the future. Consider using a professional with experience in searching for federal registration or uses of similar marks.
The trademark law takeaway from the Rock Your Brand conference: Implementing a smart and educated trademark strategy can help your brand stand out and gain monetary value in the long run.