As you prepare to launch your company, there are a zillion things to take care of, from operations to marketing to finance and accounting. One of the most critical marketing-related activities you’ll undertake is branding. Which logo and what colors and typography best represent you? What’s your value proposition? What kind of experience will your clients have when they interact with your brand?

There’s a lot of fun stuff to decide on, so it can be easy to gloss over the important legal issues you should address when it comes to your brand. A basic understanding of trademark law is key.

How to Develop a Good Brand and Trademark

2014-06-19_TM-Brand-Development_MonikaVarious parts of your branding scheme are likely to function as trademarks or service marks (aka, marks). A mark is anything that distinguishes your business, products, or services from everyone else’s. It could include:

  • A word, like your product’s name
  • A symbol, like your logo
  • A slogan, like your tagline
  • The look of your packaging
  • A sound, smell, or color (did you know that Tiffany owns a trademark for its particular shade of blue?)

A mark increases your brand’s value by giving consumers a shorthand way to recognize the quality and characteristics of your products and services, and distinguish them from competing products and services. A mark also protects you from others who attempt to copy or mirror your brand. Imagine a cut-rate jeweler selling cheap jewelry in “Tiffany Blue” colored packaging. If Tiffany had not trademarked that color, it would have a tougher time preventing this assault on its iconic brand.

To ensure something like that doesn’t happen to you, keep these 5 tips in mind as you go through the brand development phase:

1. Keep Your Options Open

Brainstorm several names for your company and its branded products and services. Ask your designer to create a few logo options with tweaks to symbols, colors and typography.

2. Be Distinctive, Not Descriptive

Trademark law has a sliding scale of protectability, so the stronger your mark, the stronger your protection. The strongest marks include made-up words (Verizon, Google) and existing words that are applied to unexpected or unconnected products and services (Apple for computers).

The next strongest marks are terms that suggest something about the nature of your product or service, like Coppertone for sunscreen. The weakest marks merely describe your product or service, like Compact Cars for smaller cars.

Over in unprotectable territory are generic names for a product or service category, like Bagel Shop for a shop that sells bagels. (If it sells ice cream that would work, but you’d probably have disappointed customers.)

3. Clear Everything, Everywhere

Here’s where we get into legal stuff. Once you have your final two or three options for a name, logo, and tagline picked out, check to see if someone else has registered or is using a similar mark. (If you plan to do business overseas, check those countries too.) Don’t know where to start? An experienced attorney can perform a clearance search for you and help you choose the best option for your brand.

4. Don’t Forget to Clear in the Digital World Too

While you’ve probably already looked at the availability of domain names, look up Facebook pages, LinkedIn company pages, and Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram handles—and any other social network you plan to use. Again, an attorney can do this for you to make sure your bases are covered.

5. Think Ahead

If you plan on adding other branded products or services in the future, check those categories of products and services, too, so there are no surprises down the road.

Have you run into any surprises when it comes to your brand? How did you fix the situation to ensure your brand continues to grow and thrive?