And potentially get sued.
Trademarks are assets. They are like offices or fabrics which a business might have, the difference is that trademarks are intangible. This doesn’t make them less important: in our sweet new world intangible becomes increasingly more valuable.
Millions of dollars are invested in Intellectual Property: patents, designs, trademarks and copyright. You hear a lot of stories about some company suing another for US$100 million in the court. The companies know that they must defend their intellectual property in the exactly the same way as their tangible property.
Let’s limit our scope. We will talk about trademarks and how you can lose thousands of dollars on a mark that cannot be registered and potentially get sued. Excited? Let’s get starting!
1. Not to file your mark. The easiest (and the cheapest!) way to lose your mark and even get sued. When you do not file your mark you leave the door open for your competitors to produce similar products with a similar mark on them. Moreover, if your trademark is confusingly similar to some existing mark (even unintentionally), the owner might demand you to stop selling your products and can even sue you.
2. Trademark your logo and use a different type of logo. A prevalent mistake. Your mark is protected — the protection is for 10 years — and between the 3rd and 4th year, you amend the logo. The problem is that, technically, this is another trademark. What is even more important, it’s an unregistered mark. And if you use the R symbol with an unregistered mark, it means that you have committed a federal crime in the US. Also, you will not be able to prove that your mark is in use (you should do this every 5 years in the US) and it might be canceled.
3. File an unregistrable trademark. Some marks can’t be registered and the list depends on the country. Those marks are geographical terms, national flags, well-known brands, surnames in some countries, generic terms and so on. Applying for such mark is a bullet-proof way of losing money.
4. Using an extremely vague description for your trademark, especially in the USA (the US Trademark Office is very picky). When you apply for a mark with a general description “cosmetics” or “all products in class X”, it’s likely to be objected.
5. To file the trademark yourself. Yes, you will save on legal fees. However, if you have never filed a trademark before, you will likely make a mistake, leading to objections and, finally, to the refusal of your mark. In some territories where the Trademark Offices are less strict (in the UK or in the European Union), it’s possible to file a trademark without any help; however, in the US around 70% of applications are objected. If you do not to respond to the objection, the application will be lost.
Last but not least mistake is to file your mark only in one country. Trademarks are totally protected only in the countries where they are registered, and in our world of rapid communications, you can’t imagine how fast the mark can be taken in Mexico, China or Germany. Therefore, your trademarking strategy should include protecting in the countries where you plan to work in the next few years; you may check international trademarking prices in the link. The initial investment can save you thousands in the long run.
You can’t avoid owning a mark if you have a successful business since the trademark is one-third of your success. No matter how great your services are, customers just won’t talk about it as “a new online search system, which helps to find content on the Internet”, they will say “Google”.
Nothing is more painful for the business than losing it’s a well-established trademark: imagine that Coca-Cola has to use a new brand. How will this affect their sales? Trademarks are property — guard them well.