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.

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.