Your company name, product names and logos (intellectual property) are among the most valuable assets of your company because they enable customers to identify the products you sell and/or the services you provide and to distinguish them from competition. Often, they are the first thing that customers encounter when seeking to make a purchase. Customer loyalty is tied to the identity of your company name, its brand names and logos and symbolizes the goodwill built up by the company and the products and services that it offers.
To maintain your brand reputation, you need to constantly protect your company’s intellectual property which includes trademarks, trade names, logos, package design and more. Any negative impact on your “brand “can severely affect the brand’s image, revenue and overall value.
As with all company assets, your company’s intellectual property must be protected to ensure that no other company takes unfair advantage of the goodwill that you have worked to build. This happens when others adopt and use confusingly similar company names, brand names, logos, packaging etc. Failure to take necessary steps to protect your intellectual property can have serious consequences, causing potential damage to the reputation of your products or services which may lead to a loss of business.
Difference Between Business Names, Brand Names and Trademarks/Service Marks
A Business Name is the name you trade under identifying who you are to your customers and other businesses.
- Prior to operating, you must register a business name with the N.J. Secretary of State in Trenton if you are trading under a name that is not your own.
- You cannot register a business name that is identical or similar to the registered name of another business or company.
A Brand Name is the name given to a product or service.
A Trademark is a brand name or logo that identifies a product and is used to distinguish your products from competitors which is federally registered in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
A Service Mark is a brand name or logo that identifies a service and is used to distinguish your services from competitors which is federally registered in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
Trademarks and service marks can be a letter, number, word, phrase, logo, image, sound, movement, shape or scent.
Registering a trademark or service mark provides you with the exclusive rights to use it throughout the United States.
If you find a trademark or service mark that is similar to yours which already exists, it may be possible for both to coexist if the parties’ products and services are not related to each other.
Example: ‘IVORY’ on soap and ‘IVORY’ on chocolate. Although both trademarks are for the same word, ‘soap’ and ‘chocolate’ are considered to be different goods, with a different purpose and sold through different trade channels.
Protecting Your Company Name, Brand Names and Logos
Once you have selected a business name, brand name or logo, it is important to search to determine whether it is available to be used and does not infringe the rights of others and is capable of being federally registered in the USPTO.
Many sophisticated business people incorrectly assume that their company name is adequately protected by virtue of having formed a corporation, LLC or partnership with the name. This is simply not the case. The creation of these legal entities does not assure you that the name can be commercially used for your business.
The most secure way to protect your company name and the brand names and logo of your product or services is to register those assets with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”).
Can Your Name or Brand Be Registered?
Protecting Your Name or Brand Once Registration is Granted
There are a number of important actions to take to ensure that your registered marks are protected.
- Know and follow the rules with regards to using the mark in commerce.
- Ensure that when the name is depicted in writing, that it is properly identified as being a registered trademark with the trademark notice “®”. Even before obtaining a federal registration an informal notice “™” should be prominently placed next to your brand name and/or logo.
- Monitor the filing of new federal trademark applications by subscribing to a watching service to locate any trademark applications that have been filed that could damage your trademark or if anybody is using your mark without permission in a way that can have a detrimental effect on your business.
- Monitoring the federal trademark register can help you to determine the steps that need to be taken to prevent registration of a trademark that could be damaging to your own. Taking early action can help minimize the costs of preventing damage to your name or your business.
The Question of Cost
There is a cost to effectively protecting intellectual property assets. It is important to consult with legal counsel specializing in this area of the law to obtain detailed information from experienced legal counsel about the benefits of securing protection for your intellectual property assets, assisting in the creation of a budget for protecting them, and the effective ways to ensure that your company has properly protected its all-important intellectual property assets.
Mark Peroff is a Managing Partner at Peroff Saunders P.C. law firm, which specializes in protecting trademarks and other corporate identities in the United States and in over 210 countries. The firm has more than 50 years of experience and has offices in New York and Northern New Jersey. www.peroffsaunders.com (973) 771-5091