5 Steps to Secure and Protect Your Brand’s Trademark Value

The value of your business depends on building and maintaining your brand – its trademarks, copyrights, patents and intellectual property. It’s a never ending job, from startup, to IPO, and beyond.

The worst thing you can do is to get some great traction going and then just sit back and hope business always stays the same and that nobody would dare steal your ideas or try to piggy-back off your success. Experience has taught many that this is anything but the case.

The fact is, competition will move in and steal what’s yours. This is a sad lesson learned by many companies over the years.

Walking fingers
photo credit: Ias – Initially / Flickr

Protect What is Yours or Watch it End up Stolen!

Just take a look at what happened to AT&T several years ago: they created those little walking fingers everyone now associates with the yellow pages. Unfortunately, the company took it for granted that nobody else would use it, but yellow pages companies all over the country and later, the world started to use AT&T’s design to market their own version of the service to customers.

When they finally caught on and decided to claim what was rightfully theirs, the courts deemed the yellow finger design to be fit for use by anybody, due to the widespread use of the design and AT&T’s failure to trademark the design.

There are countless other stories too, such as what happened to Bayer, the original makers of aspirin, or the company that originally released cellophane. Even the escalator; a billion dollar invention, isn’t a name or design that was trademarked by the original company who made it.

Escalator - not trademarked
Escalator – not trademarked

These aren’t mistakes you want to make. Continue reading to learn how to protect your brand’s trademarks, patents and other intellectual property from would-be thieves or you regret it sooner or later.

1. Hire a private trademark investigator before you file any paperwork

This is a proactive step to ensure that you don’t go out there building something, only to later find out that it was you, and not some other company, that stole an idea.

When and if you’re caught, all that money you spent filing trademarks and patents, and all the money sunk into marketing to build the brand, will disappear right before your eyes and there’ll be nothing that can be done about it when you’re found to be the offending party.

A Google search might seem like the easier and cheaper solution, but it just isn’t enough if you want to ensure you’re on the up-and-up before you start sinking money into any venture. That is, unless you are Googling for top-rated trademark investigators!

2. Make your brand distinguishable and easy to recognize

The marketing benefits of having a brand with a simple nondescript term is that it’s easy to enforce the trademark. Descriptive trademarks are very costly to brand and even harder to enforce, due to their complexity. Unless you’re selling the only civilian flights to the moon in the marketplace, keeping it simple is the only way to go.

Look at all the big brands. Microsoft, HP, GM, Honda, McDonalds, Subway, Coke, Pepsi, Ben & Jerry’s, etc. All are simple and recognizable. When someone tries to infringe on these and many other brands’ trademarks and/or patents, their simple branding language and logos make it easy to identify infringement and take offenders to court.

3. Maintain trademark consistency across the board

Your company, its distributors and licensees all need to use your trademark in a consistent manner, to protect the brand’s integrity. This includes all logos, symbols and words associated with the brand. How you present your brand consistently is what will establish any claims you need to make against those who choose to infringe upon it later.

Coca-Cola shop
James Sann / Flickr

Keep a close eye on public use of your trademark too, so you don’t suffer the same fate as AT&T with their yellow fingers’ logo that eventually became a generic term and label that anyone could use, simply because the company neglected to keep a watch over things.

4. Get the trademark registered ASAP!

A successful registration means you indeed own the rights to your trademarked material. This gives you full leverage to launch lawsuits, and also to pursue and threaten those who infringe on your trademark, online and off, with legal actions such as DMCA takedown notices which can end up saving you a lot of money in unnecessary court battles.

If you fail to Federally trademark your brand, it opens the door for others to undercut your brand and business by beating you to the punch. This scenario happened to the social network, Pinterest, when they went to secure international expansion rights for their brand: A company in the UK had already beat them to the rights to the brand name in that country and there was nothing Pinterest could do. They had waited too long to register their name.

5. Enforce and maintain without fail

It’s up to you to police your mark, as many in business like to say. You have to bring the infringement to the attention of the “infringer” and you have to seek out the authorities when all else fails. And you have to do this rather quickly (remember the yellow fingers’ story about AT&T I keep bringing up?)

A stack of yellow Pages
photo credit: Maraca FS / Pinterest

And this is likely the hardest part of all when it comes to protecting the brand, which is why most big companies have entire teams to carry out this task. If you fail to keep your eyes open for similar products using the same or entirely-too-similar depictions of your trademark and marketing materials, they’ll walk right over you in court the longer they go on doing business without being confronted.

Keep an eye on your brand and it will surely take care of you for years to come.

Don’t, and you can be looking at countless lawsuits that need to be filed and paid for, not to mention a potential need to re-brand yourself if your brand does get stolen and profits diluted because of it.