Getting the ®, ™, or SM after the name of your product or service is all the rage right now, and it should be. The world is changing, and globally people are opting to trade-in their traditional careers to launch a new business, product, or service. It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, 400,000 new businesses are born annually. With the growing number of businesses, protecting your brand as a means to differentiate yourself in the marketplace is a great idea.
The great thing about brand protection in the United States is that we are a first to create, first to invent country. This means that if you think of the slogan, logo, or business name first and use it commercially or have an intent to do so, it’s yours. Registering your trademark is a marker in time proving that the brand name belongs to you. It also provides for certain statutory benefits and damages (aka money) if someone tries to pass off their goods as yours. However, to take advantage of these benefits, the real work begins after you have registered your trademark.
Trademark enforcement is the process of pursuing adverse users of your mark. An adverse user is someone who uses your mark on their goods or services without permission or who uses it improperly when given permission. Trademark enforcement is vital to maintaining your intellectual property rights, and here are the key steps to making it happen
- Set Up Guidelines For Trademark Usage
Did you know that Aspirin, Cellophane, Escalator and Trampoline used to be brand names? What happened? Well the owners of these marks either failed to maintain their trademark registration or they failed to establish guidelines for usage so the marks fell victim to genericide. Genericide happens when a word no longer represents a specific producer but instead becomes the generic name for an entire class of goods. Once a word becomes generic it no longer can be enforced as a trademark. If you’ve gone through the trouble of securing your trademark registration, it is important that you set up guidelines for its usage. Generally this means making sure that you use your trademark as adjective at all times and never using your mark in a plural or possessive form. Think Band-Aid ® bandages and BMW ® cars for example.
- Set Up A Trademark Monitoring Program
Along with proper usage, it is important that you monitor your trademark for potential adverse users. You can do this by setting up a Google Alert to notice you when your brand name is used online and by using Google Adwords and Keyword Planner to see if anyone is using your trademark as a way to target and reach people online for marketing purposes. You also want to monitor trademark filing at the USPTO. The trademark office publishes marks that are seeking registration in the USPTO gazette. If you find a mark that potentially infringes your brand name, you can file an opposition to its registration.
- Enforce Your Rights
If you find that someone is improperly using your mark, it’s time to enforce your rights. The first step is to identify the adverse user. Websites like Icann Whois can assist you in determining the registered owner of a website. Once you identify the adverse user, send a cease and desist letter or have an attorney do it for you. A cease and desist letter will put the adverse user on notice that they are using your mark without permission and demand that they “cease” that activity. Once you send the letter, you must follow up to ensure that the adverse user stops her illegal use of your mark or you negotiate her use of your mark according to terms that are agreeable to you.