Congratulations on becoming an entrepreneur!

Trademark protection for your startup

Starting your own business can be very exciting and rewarding. It will probably also be hard work, with pitfalls you have to look out for. Entrepreneurial success is a combination of several factors. Your industry trends and economic factors are just two examples of elements you have no control over. Luckily, there are many other factors for success that you can influence, among which are your intellectual property rights. You can indeed take the necessary steps to make sure that your company brand is properly secured and will then flourish with the growth of your business.

Guidelines for trademark protection for your startup

View IP rights as an asset and money spent on trademark protection as an investment rather than a cost centre.
Intangible company assets such as trademarks are sometimes neglected in favour of critical day-to-day business operations. However, your brand or trademarks will likely be the most valuable assets of your business and it is advisable to protect them without delay. Think about the value of some marks such as AMAZON, APPLE or NIKE, and remember that trademarks can be taken and used by anyone for their own benefit unless you get adequate protection.
Do a trademark search BEFORE you name your business.
We have seen many entrepreneurs choose a business name, set up a website, prepare promotional materials, and start making sales. Then one day, they receive a letter from a third party informing them that they are infringing their trademark rights. They don’t have much choice at this stage but to start a rebranding exercise to avoid litigation. Changing a name and rebranding a business is expensive and time-consuming. However, the good news is, this costly mistake can be avoided by taking proactive steps. Start by conducting a trademark search before setting up a business, and before you begin trading, ensure that you have the right to use the name you have chosen.

What should you trademark?

Often, new entrepreneurs do not know what can be trademarked. You should always protect your company name as it is normally how your customers find you. In addition, it is advisable to obtain protection, not just for the names of your products and services, but also for your logos and advertising slogans.

Choose a strong brand, be creative!

It is crucial to come up with a new, exciting name. This will make the mark more likely to be accepted for registration. Marks that are too generic or descriptive cannot be registered. The strongest trademarks are indeed fanciful names such as IKEA or NIKE, or common words filed in relation to unrelated products or services like APPLE or BLACKBERRY. You might be interested to know that brands that include a location name may face objections and if accepted for registration, they would normally be granted with limitations such as disclaimers or goods or services’ restrictions.

Avoid getting deeply attached to the mark before it is registered.

While it is important to select a mark you like, it is dangerous to get attached too soon. We have seen many startup founders taking it very personally when the examiners refuse their descriptive or non-distinctive mark for registration. They have extreme difficulty in listening to the sound advice of their trademark agents in this connection. Please bear in mind that as long as your mark is not registered, you might have to change it in your business’s best interest.

Filing a trademark application is easy; filing a useful trademark application is more difficult.

It is important to get registration right – choosing the right mark, selecting the correct class(es), listing the proper goods and/or services. Furthermore, once filed, the representation of a trademark can normally not be changed, and classes, goods, and services cannot be added. It is therefore critical to anticipate where your business will be in the next couple of years at the time of filing your applications.

Registering a company or domain name is not sufficient.

Indeed, registered domain or company names offer very limited or no trademark protection. Many business owners think wrongly that setting up a business entity will give them sufficient trademark protection on their business name. Company and trademark registrations are two different processes.

Actively manage the trademark portfolio with the growth and evolution of your company.

Make sure your trademark portfolio is updated at all times and adequately covers the brands of your new products and services. On the other hand, if some marks are no longer relevant after a few years, due to a change in logo or a change of business focus, for example, you should consider abandoning them.

Monitoring for infringement.

Upon registration of your mark, it is critical to make sure that no one else uses or files an identical or similar trademark that would cause confusion to the public and funnel customers away from your business. Trademark infringement is extremely costly and you should take proper action before you suffer business loss from your competitor stealing your clients. It is therefore recommended that you regularly monitor the registration and use of third parties’ marks.

We have extensive experience with startups and we understand that new entrepreneurs have special needs. In our experience, nothing beats a telephonic conversation to discuss your needs in IP and we have worked out a package that includes a preliminary 30-minute telephonic conversation. This will cover the basics of trademark filings but also your specific questions in this regard, if any. Interested to know more?