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PATENTS AND TRADEMARKS

3 Ways to Guard Your Trademark

Your company's trademarks are your most important business asset. Here's how you can protect them.
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I love McDonald's. If I could I would eat there three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. McDonald's has been with me throughout my life from when I was a kid of the seventies watching Ronald McDonald to when I moved to Washington D.C. in the early nineties. When I was working on Capital Hill and putting myself through law school, all I could afford was one Extra Value Meal per day. It would often be my only meal of the day.

I have now spent slightly over four decades on this planet and my love of McDonald's has spread to my two children. Although our dining experiences at McDonald's are far less frequent than mine were during my Capital Hill days my kids know McDonald's. When they were younger, whenever we would pass one of the Golden Arches almost in unison they would shout out "McDonald's!"

So where am I going with all this? Why should you care about my and my family's love of McDonald's? Because behind the food, behind the best French fries ever created, behind McDonald's itself is the brand, their trademark.

It's about brand awareness. It's about every time I walk into a McDonald's from South Florida to California, from New York City to Washington D.C. I know that those amazing fries and great tasting burgers will be just the same as the last time. Why? Because their trademark told me so.

A business's most valuable asset is its trademark. McDonald's has spent decades building up brand awareness and who knows how much money. As a result, you know when you see those Golden Arches you are going to get the same quality product delivered to you in the same manner every single time, no matter where you are. It's the brand that simply, and efficiently, let's you know.

Major companies have, for years, recognized the necessity of protecting their brands, their trademarks if you will, so that they can build consumer recognition therein. It is an invaluable part of building your business. Without your trademark consumers would not know how to get your product. Without your trademark, you have nothing to build consumer recognition in your goods or services.

If McDonald's today were required to remove all of their signage from every restaurant, change the names of their restaurant to something generic for the respective area they are in, and move into non-descript spaces in strip malls how would you find them?

So how do you properly protect your most important business asset. Here are three steps that every business should do:

1. Clearance

Prior to using a trademark you should always conduct a research to make sure that the trademark, or a similar trademark, is not already in use by another company. If you do not you risk adopting a trademark and beginning to build up good will in a brand that you could be required to stop using if you are ever sued for trademark infringement. So always make sure that the brand that you want to build is available before you begin use of the same.

 2. Registration

Once you know that your brand is available, provided you intend to or are using the trademark in interstate commerce, you should register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Registration is relatively cost-effective and provides the owner with extra benefits should enforcement of the trademark ever be required.

 3. Enforcement

Lastly, a trademark owner must always enforce its trademark. Allowing others to use the same or a similar brand to your established brand diminishes your trademark's ability to identify your goods and services and may create consumer confusion--the type that costs you business--in the marketplace.

IMAGE: Brian Auer/Flickr
Last updated: Jul 20, 2012

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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