Common Trademark Mistakes Made By Small Businesses

Business owners certainly understand the importance of protecting their brands.  However, taking the steps necessary to ensure a brand has all of the necessary legal protections, including trademarks, is often not prioritized.  Let’s walk through some of the most common trademark mistakes business owners often make.

Not Conducting a Comprehensive Trademark Search

Many business owners understand the importance of a trademark search, but they opt to use a free online searches such as Google or the USPTO’s TESS search engine to conduct their trademark searches.  This is of course is seemingly less expense but it can actually end up being more costly. That’s because these searches typically only reveal exact matches to your trademark and most trademark disputes arise from “confusingly similar” marks, not exact matches.  Advanced software used by Anitria Stevenson Law will reveal not just exact marks, but similar marks as well and will make filing your application a lot less risky.

The USPTO will reject your trademark application if a confusingly similar mark is already registered.  Conducting a proper clearance search before you submit your application with the USPTO helps eliminate wasting your time and your money.  Having this information in advance, allows you to make the necessary changes to your mark before you submit your application.

Engage with an experienced attorney to assist with your trademark search.

Failing to Secure A Federal Trademark With The USPTO

In the United States, you do have common law rights to your trademark simply by using it first in the marketplace.  However, common law rights are very limited. A common law trademark will only protect your mark in the geographic region where your business is located.  This means your business growth could significantly restricted if you ever wish to expand or if you plan to sell your goods and/or services online.

Also, you should register all of your trademarks with the USPTO.  Typically, business owners focus on registering their business name, and that’s a great place to start. But your business probably has a portfolio of marks that need the trademark protection as well such as the names of your products and/or services, logos, tag lines, slogans, or even packaging. Talk with your trademark attorney to get a complete legal protection strategy for protecting all of your business trademarks.

Contact us today for a free consultation with a trademark attorney.

Failing to Police Your Trademark

The USPTO approves and registers trademarks but it doesn’t enforce your trademark.  As a trademark owner, you are responsible for policing your trademark.  Your trademark only remains strong if you police it. Allowing others to use your mark without your permission dilutes your mark’s strength, confuses potential customers, and can even damage your brand’s reputation.  You must monitor your trademark’s use and take immediate legal action against infringement. Trademark monitoring is a valuable tool to aid in policing your trademark. What is trademark monitoring? Trademark monitoring helps notify you of any possible infringement and helps determine the best course of action to stop the infringement.  In many cases, a cease-and-desist letter is all that is needed to stop unauthorized use of the mark, but occasionally, more formal legal action must be taken so that your mark remains in your control.  Trademark monitoring may seem like an impossible task especially while you are trying to run a successful business.  Fortunately, some trademark attorneys offer trademark monitoring services. Working with an experienced attorney like Anitria Stevenson ensures that appropriate action will be taken quickly.

Failing to Maintain Your Trademark

A federally-registered trademark remains active, as long as you continue to use it properly and meet renewal deadlines.  It’s important to consistently use your trademark only in the way that it was registered.  If multiple people in your company will be using the trademark, consider creating trademark guidelines, outlining how your trademarks should be used on products, websites, and marketing material, to ensure consistent use.

You must also meet the renewal deadlines set by the USPTO.  For new trademarks, the first renewal will occur between the fifth and sixth year, and again between the ninth and tenth year.  After that, renewals will take place every ten years.  Failing to meet renewal deadlines will cause your trademark to be canceled.

Not Working with a Trademark Attorney

Entrepreneurs, by nature, are go-getters and often have a do-it-yourself approach to business.  Being able to trim costs and overhead is often a necessity. While this is certainly beneficial in developing your product or service, hiring employees and growing your bottomline, taking the DIY approach to trademark registration could cost you way more time and money in the long run.  The trademark registration process is stacked with legal decisions that need to be made from conducting a trademark search to selecting the correct classes of goods and/or services.  In order to get the broadest protection possible for your mark, it’s wise to consider working with a trademark attorney.

This is why the USPTO recommends working with an experienced trademark attorney!  A recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that applications filed by trademark attorneys actually have a significantly higher likelihood of approval than those that did not.  The odds of approval jumps significantly when using a qualified trademark attorney. While 57% of people filing without the help of an attorney received approval from the USPTO, the number jumped to 83% when submitted with the help of an attorney.  Anitria Stevenson Law works with many business owners tried completing the application process on their own, only to be rejected and forced to refile.  Avoid this costly and time-consuming mistake by working with an experienced trademark attorney from the beginning.

Avoid Trademark Mistakes

Whether you are still in product development or well established in business, now is the time to begin the trademark registration process.  In order to get the broadest protection for your mark, avoid the most common trademark mistakes.  Work with an attorney and conduct a clearance trademark search.  Register all of your trademarks with the USPTO, and monitor their use in the marketplace.  If you find potential infringement, work with your attorney to take immediate action.  Be sure to use the mark consistently, and meet renewal deadlines as well.  These tips will ensure your business, brand and trademarks are all protected.

Do you need assistance with a trademark matter?

Contact an Attorney Today

Anitria Stevenson, Esq
Anitria Stevenson, Esq. is the founder and managing attorney of Anitria Stevenson Law. Anitria Stevenson has more than 23 years of experience in trademark law and has helped countless business owners navigate the trademark process successfully. The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and may not be relied on as legal advice.

The Key To Building and Protecting Your Brand Trademark Your Business Name, Logos, Taglines and Slogans

Building a strong brand is critical to business growth and success. Protecting your brand is equally important. Yet, many small businesses skip the important first step in securing their brand with a federal trademark.

What Is A Trademark?

A trademark is any unique word, symbol, name or device used to identify and distinguish the goods of one seller from the goods of another.  Think McDonald’s and the Golden Arches or the Adidas Three Stripes. A trademark allows the seller to protect it’s products or services from use and/or misuse by competitors while building brand loyalty and identity with customers. Trademarks also help prevent confusion or manipulation of consumers, who come to associate distinct attributes like quality and consistency with a distinct brand.

What Can Be Trademarked?

The following are business assets that can be trademarked: Business Name, logos, slogans, tag lines and packaging. However. a word or phrase that’s commonly used or already connected with another product or service in the same industry or category cannot be trademarked. For example, a generic term like “computer” can’t be trademarked, but a unique name, like Lenovo, can be. However, if your name is generic but used in an industry not typically related to the meaning of the term, you may be able to trademark it. A good example would be Dominoe’s Pizza.  Associating pizza with a word typically referencing a game makes it less generic and gives it protection.

What Is The Trademark Process?

In the United States, whoever establishes priority in a mark is usually considered the owner of it. In other words, if you’re the first company to use a unique mark to identify your products or services, you don’t need to register your mark to gain rights to it. However, in order to get exclusive rights and ownership and be able to stop third parties from use without your permission, you must register your mark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

It’s best to seek an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law to ensure that your meet all the requirements to protect your brand.  Trademarks can be registered at the state or federal level. State registrations are typically less expensive, but also offer less protection. Filing a federal trademark application with USPTO, ensures that your brand is protected nation-wide. This process can take months. Do your research, because if your mark is considered confusingly similar to another registered mark, your application will be refused.

The more different and unique your brand is from others, the easier it’ll be to register and protect. At Anitria Stevenson Law PLLC, we provide our clients with a comprehensive search upfront to determine the level of risk clients may face when trying to register their marks.  We also provide guidance and representation throughout the entire process.

To inquire about the process of trademarking your brand, visit Anitria Stevenson Law

Or email trademarks@anitriastevenson.com and get started with building and protecting you legacy.

Can I Copyright This?

Clients often ask the question, “Can I copyright this?” Most times our new clients have no idea that they could have added copyright protection for their work.  Unfortunately, it’s usually after seeing their work displayed without their permission and most importantly, without compensation, that this realization occurs.  Below is sample of things that we copyright for our clients:

1. Course Content 

2. Logos

3. Photos

4. T-Shirt Designs

5. Jewelry Designs

6. Promotional brochures

7. Website content

8. YouTube Videos

9. Website designs

10. Fashion prints

11. Blog Posts

12. Movies

13. Poems

14. Song lyrics

15. Books

16. Artwork

17. Paintings

18. Architectural works

19. Sound recordings

20. Screenplays

21. Stage Plays

22. Computer Software

23. Articles

24. Essays

25. Advertisements

26. Speeches

27. Scripts

28. Sketches

29. Drawings

30. Cartoons

31. Paintings

32. Sculptures

33. Fashion Designs

34. Live webcasts

35. Podcasts

36. Mp3 files

37. Blueprints

38. Product descriptions

39. Ebooks

40. Music Videos 

Of course, this is only a sample of what can be copyrighted. If you regularly create works that are need of copyright protection, time is of the essence.  The days of mailing yourself a sealed envelop to establish your copyright are long gone.

If you’d like more information on filing for copyright protection, send an email – anitria@entreprelegal.com

Common Mistakes To Avoid As A Small Business Owner

Every day we see articles and social media posts encouraging people to step out and start their own business. We hear the constant encouragement to have multiple sources of income. We often see stories of small business success and we’ve all heard amazing stories about major corporations buying unknown startup businesses for millions. As a serial entrepreneur, I have seen the highs and lows of being a small business owner. Running a small business takes time, hard work and commitment. To get your new business off on the right foot, avoid these common startup mistakes.

1. No Business Plan

A great business plan should help you evaluate the market conditions and competition for your product and/or service. Your plan should explore start-up costs, operation budgets and the income you expect to generate.

The process of developing a good business plan may even expose issues that you did not consider in the beginning. It may even help you to decide whether your idea is worth pursuing. If it’s just a hobby, viability and profitability may not matter. But if market success if your goal, starting a business without a plan is a recipe for disaster.

2. No Marketing Plan

Having a equally great marketing plan is essential. After all, you can’t expect to make money if no one knows about your products/services. Your business plan will identify your targeted customer base and your marketing plan should demonstrate the best way to appeal to that customer base and separate your business from your competitors. Without a well-organized marketing plan, you’re prone to waste time and money on things that will not lead to profitability.

3. Patience Is A Virtue

Many business owners are so excited and eager to grow their business that they forget that in business, rapid growth sometimes can lead to even bigger problems. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your new business won’t be either. The fact is small businesses typically don’t earn any profit until year three, and it’s common to encounter issues and have setbacks. Successful business owners are prepared for this and have the patience and financial reserves to stay afloat and push forward.

4. No Budget

The desire for rapid success often gets small business owners into trouble because their spending is impulsive rather than planned. Your business plan should have included your budget and necessary expenses. However, there are pitfalls to avoid such as expensive office or retail space, unnecessary staff and equipment. Options such as virtual office space, home offices and office sharing are ideal if you don’t have a lot to spend on overhead. The lower your overhead, the more you will have to put into things that will really make a difference in the success of your business. Taking on unnecessary debt is a sure fire way to tank your business early. 

5. Know Your Value

A common mistake made by new business owners is to fail to adequately price your products and/or services. You know the saying work smart, not hard? Well a surefire way to work hard and still lose money is to fail to know your worth. The market will make room for you if you have and present a desired product and/or service. Trying to attract more business by undercutting the competition or just plain not knowing what you should charge is a way to ensure defeat. 

6. Selecting The Wrong Business Entity Type

I get calls all the time from new business owners who rushed to form a limited liability company because that’s what their friends did or told them to do. Others decided to wait and see if their business would work before setting up a business entity. Choosing the wrong business entity, or not setting one up at all, can have very undesirable consequences down the road. For example, if you operate as a general partnership, you may be surprised to find that you are personally responsible for all the business debts, even the ones you never agreed to. If you set up a corporation, you may end up paying higher taxes because you’re taxed at both the corporate and individual level. Utilize legal and tax professionals upfront. It may seem like an expensive route but it is far more costly after the fact. Entreprelegal is an affordable legal service designed specifically for small business owners.

7. No Business Insurance

For business with office and retail space, setting up a business entity limits your personal liability for business obligations. But you still won’t be protected if someone slips and falls on your premises, if you have an accident with a company car, or if you are sued for a defective product.

These sorts of claims can be devastating to both your business and your personal finances. Consult an insurance agent to get proper coverage for your office.

8. Not Utilizing Written Contracts

No matter the entity type, every business needs a written document that explains each member’s rights and responsibilities and what actions will be taken if one of them leaves the business.

All too often, though, business partners fail to put anything in writing because they get along well with each other and think they’ll always be able to resolve things easily. This is frequently untrue, and disputes between partners can be difficult, expensive and a business killer.

9. Failure to Protect Intellectual Property

If your business produces artwork, photos, music, software, etc… the things your creations may be eligible for copyright protection. In addition, your business name and logo are intellectual property that may be eligible for state and/or federal trademark protection. Your logo may also be protected by copyright. Smart business owners should always take steps to protect their intellectual property by formally registering it and actively guarding against its use by competitors.

10. Thinking You Can Do It All Yourself

Entrepreneurs tend to be independent, confident and self-reliant individuals. However, knowing your limitations and learning to delegate tasks are important skills necessary for a successful startup. Try to focus on the things you’re good at and enjoy while turning to other for things that require specialized knowledge.

Becoming a business owner is an amazing feeling. But if you want your business to succeed, take the time to plan and protect yourself. 

How Do I Protect My Brand?

New businesses are created every day, especially with the increase in internet accessibility.  You can now develop a new idea and become a business owner with the click of a few buttons, you’re live on the internet. Unfortunately, this too often results in infringement of other established brands. Brand protection is necessary to stop infringement. Brand infringement cause businesses to lose billions annually.

If you are currently a business owner, It is very likely that your business has intellectual property that attracts customers and creates revenue. Whether it be a recognized trademark, copyright or patent, every single business has some sort of intellectual property.  Whether you know it or not, your intellectual property is the reason your business earns revenue. 

Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs simply do not know their rights regarding their intellectual property, and if they know, they’re not sure how to go about protecting it. I work with small businesses every day, and it’s alarming to hear about how much revenue is being lost due to infringement on their brand. 

Brand protection helps thriving businesses protect their reputation and maintain the integrity of their products and services. There are several ways to implement brand protection for your business. I’m going to detail some of the most common means for small businesses to implement a plan. 

In House Reviews

Due to fear of driving up overhead costs, many entrepreneurs have relied on the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) plan of action. There is nothing wrong with this, if you know what you are doing. In-house review and monitoring is the most cost-efficient mode of brand protection, but it has the most holes. Many instances of infringement can be missed simply because the business owner was unaware of it or did not know what to do about it.

Automated Software

There are a number of software companies creating new programs to track down and eliminate infringing products around the world. However, your copyrighted works are often missed by the software. It is also common for infringers to just make subtle changes to original works but even derivative works often still constitute copyright infringement, and the software may not catch the derivative works even though they are copyright infringement. The software is also not the most cost efficient option.

Entreprelegal Copyright System

Entreprelegal is a more cost-efficient than automated software and closes the gaps between in-house reviews and automated software. It is a proactive approach, so clients never have to worry about infringers. Once an infringement is identified, Entreprelegal immediately has the content removed. There are different levels of enrollment, so the program works for all business sizes. You can learn about the specifics of my subscription models here

No matter level of brand protection you choose for your business, you have to be proactive. Protect your intellectual property or lose it.

Can I Copyright This?

Clients often ask the question, "Can I copyright this?" Most times our new clients have no idea that they could have added copyright protection for their work.  Unfortunately, it's usually after seeing their work displayed without their permission and most...

Why All Business Owners Should Have An Official Trademark Search

An official name search is imperative if you do not have a federal trademark registration. Imagine this…you just started a business and found the perfect name. However, money is tight and you think a trademark can be saved for later down the road. You run a google search and a TESS search and think you have the green light. Your name is not in use. Several months or years later, your business has grown and your business name is now recognizable. You have marketing material and you have invested in an advertising budget. You call your attorney and decide to proceed with a trademark application. However, you learn that google and the TESS database are not adequate searches. The trademark office does not only look for names that are the same.  The trademark office will also test whether your mark is likely to cause confusion with already registered marks. So, even though you ran your own search and didn’t find any business with the same name as yours, there could still be a number of businesses with names that are similar enough that they are likely to cause confusion. 

Performing an official search now can save you thousands of dollars down the road.  An official search will let you know what level of risk you will face during the application process. You could be denied a trademark registration because you didn’t verify with an official search. You may be able to overcome the denial and the trademark denial may not mean you have to change your name. However, if the owner of the registered mark becomes aware of your mark and application, they may decide to pursue a claim against you for trademark infringement resulting in a name change for your business. A name change can be detrimental as a brand change can cost you a lot of business. I’ve had countless business owners contact our office due to an involuntary name change all because they failed to properly have an official search and wasted thousands of dollars on marketing materials. 

The search fee is different for each attorney. But a few hundred dollars now can save thousands down the road. If you’d like to get started with a search, feel free to email me – anitria@entreprelegal.com

Can I Copyright This?

Clients often ask the question, "Can I copyright this?" Most times our new clients have no idea that they could have added copyright protection for their work.  Unfortunately, it's usually after seeing their work displayed without their permission and most...