We’ve previously discussed protecting your brand by registering and enforcing your trademarks. But what about the unique content you create? Enter copyright law. Copyright protects “original works of authorship.” This can be anything from written works like books and articles, to musical and artistic creations, even computer programs and architectural plans. Copyright is an important area of law, not just for creatives, but any entrepreneur who creates content or uses content created by someone else.
Just what does copyright protect? And why should you register your copyrights?
The Coronavirus pandemic has turned life upside down for most of the world, and has been especially difficult for small businesses and nonprofits. However, this hasn’t completely eliminated legal obligations and deadlines. I have said before, and I will say it again, I firmly believe that we will get through this. Many small businesses and nonprofits will find ways to pick back up and re-open their doors. Many of you have already found creative ways to transition to online sales. Small businesses and nonprofits are an essential part of the economy, and that will still be true on the other side of this pandemic.
One of the many legal obligations that you may be tempted to set on the backburner (or may simply have forgotten about in the midst of the current crisis) are your trademark deadlines. The USPTO is not granting waivers of fees or extensions of time for most trademark related filings. These include:
Building a successful business is hard work. You need a great product or service, a marketing plan for getting the word out, skills in sales to convert your product or service into actual money, a head for numbers and finance, and innumerable leadership skills to tie it all together. Today, let’s talk about the marketing/branding piece. We’re often asked: Should my business name and brand name be the same? What is a DBA, and do I need one? And how do I file one here in Ohio? The Secretary of State doesn’t have a DBA form. And what is the difference between a trade name and a fictitious name?
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of conducting a trademark search. In Part 2, we explained this idea of the “likelihood of confusion” and what to look for in that trademark search. And in Part 3, we discussed how to register your trademarks with the USPTO. But once your trademark is registered, it’s your job to protect it and enforce your rights. To do so, you must file certain maintenance documents in a timely manner and actively police your trademark.
To recap, in Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of conducting a trademark search, and in Part 2, we explained this idea of the “likelihood of confusion” and what to look for in that trademark search. Assuming your trademarks aren’t confusingly similar with that of another company offering related goods or services, how do you go about actually registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)?
In Part 1, we discussed the importance of conducting a trademark search, preferably before investing too much into a brand only to learn that your trademark cannot be registered or, worse, infringes someone else's trademark. The most common reason for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to refuse a trademark registration is because there is a "likelihood of confusion" between the mark you applied for and an already registered mark. Put simply, in order to protect consumers, two trademarks generally cannot be "confusingly similar" to one another.
The question isn't whether your trademark is identical to someone else's. The question is how similar the two trademarks in question are and whether both marks are being used for related goods and services. For example, you wouldn't be able to trademark "McDonald's Burger Joint" for obvious reasons, but you could make a good argument to trademark "McDonald's Financial Services" because burgers and financial services are not related goods or services.
Brand recognition is important to many businesses. Much like larger companies, there are certain things that we hope will cause our customers to think of us and our message. For example, Nike has the swoosh symbol, the slogan “Just Do It,” and even the name Nike. When we see these things, we automatically think about that particular company and its products. And for better or worse, we want the real thing from Nike and not some knock-off counterfeit. And the same is true of service-based businesses. When you hear “What’s in your wallet?” you immediately think of a certain bank.
Think for a moment about what your customers or clients see that they associate with your goods or services. Now think about the time and effort and even money your business has put into that branding, and you’ll immediately understand why it’s so important to protect that brand. In this series, we’re going to discuss just how to do that by registering for and protecting your trademarks.
What do you do when your business has valuable competitive information that you don’t want a current or former disgruntled employee to share with others? Perhaps you’ve built a valuable customer list over the years, or you have a unique way of pricing your goods or services. Maybe you’ve developed a unique software solution, or you have special deals in place with your vendors. Whatever the information is, if it has economic value precisely because it isn’t known to your competitors or the general public, then it probably qualifies as a trade secret. What should your business be doing to protect such trade secrets?