What Is a Trademark?
A trademark can be a company name, slogan, piece of artwork or other type of intellectual property. Some trademarks are a single word, while others involve phrases or unique designs. In the case of Coca-Cola, for example, the name Coca-Cola, the unique shape of company bottles and even the specific hue of red used in branding are trademarks.
A trademark tells consumers know where products or services are coming from and sets you apart from competitors. You don’t need a registered name to do business, but having one can be advantageous.
Why Is Registration Important?
One of the first steps on your business plan should be choosing a brand name. Why should you think about trademark registration?
- Defining your brand personality: If you’re trying to build an intricate brand narrative that attracts customers, your brand name is key. As you build a relationship with them, consumers associate positive experiences with your company’s name.
- Protecting against copyright infringement: Registering a brand name doesn’t automatically guarantee that no one else will attempt to use it, but in the event of a legal fight, having a registered trademark gives you the upper hand.
What Does the Registration Process Involve?
Submitting an application for trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), even if no one else is using the name desired, doesn’t always mean it will be accepted. The USPTO looks at several factors to determine whether the brand name is applicable for registration or not:
- Strength of brand name: Brand names that are based on everyday concepts, such as “computer,” may have a hard time getting registered. Suggestive names, which don’t directly describe your products but may evoke the idea, are better but not as strong as fanciful inventions. Words that are totally unrelated to a business’ products, such as “Apple” or “Amazon,” have a greater chance of being accepted, and the strongest trademark names are completely made up, such as Pepsi or Xerox.
- Likelihood of confusion: When deciding whether or not to approve registration, the USPTO will also analyze how likely it is that your brand or products will be confused with another company. There is room within intellectual property laws for an Apple Records and Apple the electronics manufacturer, for example, unless both businesses begin to target the same markets or product offerings.
Because intellectual property laws can be complex, it’s best to approach trademark registration with the assistance of an attorney with intimate knowledge of IP law. The process can take some time, but the benefits for brand recognition and growth can more than make up for the effort. Make trademark considerations one of the first parts of your business plan.